In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. government has stepped into the breach, passing a $2 trillion spending package that, among other things, will put a stimulus check of $1,200 into the hands of many Americans, with even more earmarked for married couples and those with children.
That money will offer much-needed financial support for those who have been furloughed or are temporarily unemployed as a result of efforts to halt the spread of the coronavirus. That said, assuming you don't need the money for immediate expenses or to bulk up your emergency fund, investing it in income-generating stocks can help increase the impact of those funds even more.
Investors in a position to do so might want to consider three stocks that could help their stimulus check generate cash for years to come -- Verizon Communications (VZ 1.66%), Apple (AAPL 2.56%), and NextEra Energy (NEE 2.01%). Let's find out a little more about these three stocks and why they can boost your portfolio.
1. Verizon Communications
While there are no absolutes, it's a pretty fair assumption that consumers won't be abandoning their mobile phones anytime soon. With much of the U.S. populace being asked to stay at home right now, their phones have become one of their only means of contact with the outside world. The same could be said for U.S. businesses, as those that are still working behind the scenes will need to keep the lines of communication open with customers and staff alike.
There's also the coming of 5G, the next generation of wireless technology that promises to deliver faster and better service over wireless networks. While bringing unprecedented speeds to smartphones, this telecommunications upgrade will enable Verizon to provide investors with an excellent opportunity, as it stands to benefit greatly from the coming wave of 5G.
The company ended 2019 with the highest fourth-quarter customer growth in six years, pushing its free cash flow to $17.8 billion. Verizon has also increased its dividend every year since 2007, increasing the total by nearly 30% over the past decade. Just last month, Verizon boosted its quarterly payout to $0.615 per share, giving it a juicy dividend yield of 4.5% at current prices. Even more importantly, Verizon devotes just 52% of its free cash flow to fund the dividend, leaving plenty of opportunity for future increases.
While the iPhone maker may not be the first stock that comes to mind for income generation, its dividend only tells part of the story. Apple (AAPL 2.56%) is down more than 20% from its recent highs, following the broader market slump and bear market resulting from the pandemic. This gives investors an excellent opportunity for some significant capital gains in the coming months and years.
Another reason Apple deserves its place on the list is the security that comes from an unassailable balance sheet. The California company has a massive war chest with more than $207 billion in cash and marketable securities and just $108 billion in debt. So with $99 billion in net cash, its dividend is as safe as they come. Plus, Apple generated operating cash flow of more than $30 billion in the first quarter alone, and while the pandemic will take a toll on current sales, those delayed sales won't simply evaporate.
Apple has also consistently increased its payouts since it resumed its dividend in mid-2012, with its quarterly payment of $0.77 a share up 103% over the past 7 years. The dividend now yields nearly 1.3%, and Apple has historically announced updates to its capital allocation plan along with its second-quarter results, which are due later this month. The company uses less than 25% of its profits to fund the payout, so it would be surprising not to see another increase in the coming weeks.
3. NextEra Energy
Another industry that's about as solid as they come, even in times of financial distress, is utilities. Even as consumers are spending more time working and shopping from home, many non-essential businesses have shuttered for the duration. Over the long term, however, that shouldn't be too painful for renewable energy producer NextEra Energy (NEE 2.01%). The Florida-based utility is the world leader in electricity generated by solar and wind energy.
NextEra Energy owns two electric companies that serve customers in Florida: Florida Power & Light Company, which serves more than 5 million customers and is one of the largest rate-regulated electric utilities in the United States; and Gulf Power Company, which serves more than 470,000 customers in eight counties throughout northwest Florida.
In February, NextEra Energy increased its quarterly dividend by 12% to $1.40 a share. The company also announced a plan to continue to grow its dividend by roughly 10% per year through at least 2022. Management also said its 60% payout ratio is below industry averages. Its solid earnings and operating cash-flow growth, along with "clear visibility" to continue delivering on its profit estimates over the coming three years, leave the company well-positioned to continue its dividend policy going forward. NextEra Energy also sports an attractive 2.5% yield, with management assurances that the rate will climb -- at least for the next several years -- and potentially beyond.