Since late March, the S&P 500 index has partially climbed back from the coronavirus-driven market sell-off that began in February. However, as of Monday, April 13, the index is still down more than 18% from its all-time high, set on Feb. 19.
During times like these, many investors are looking for rock-solid dividend stocks to help them weather the turbulence. So we asked three Motley Fool contributors to name one stock that fits the bill.
While there's no such beast as a perfectly safe stock, our contributors believe that Brookfield Infrastructure Partners (BIP 0.56%), American Water Works (AWK -2.28%), and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing (TSM -1.04%) are among the safest dividend payers in today's market and also have superior long-term capital appreciation potential.
Combining diversification and necessity
John Bromels (Brookfield Infrastructure Partners): I've had my eye on Brookfield Infrastructure Partners for a long time. The infrastructure master limited partnership (MLP), managed by the top-notch talent at Brookfield Asset Management, has a winning combination of a diversified set of assets in essential industries. So when the stock market plunged, I took the opportunity to scoop up some units (MLP-speak for shares).
I'm not worried about Brookfield Infrastructure's ability to weather the current coronavirus outbreak or its related economic fallout. The company's assets are largely concentrated in necessary infrastructure sectors, like energy and telecommunications.
While some of Brookfield's assets, like ports and toll roads, might see a decline in use during the crisis, it probably won't have much impact at all on Brookfield. That's because about 95% of the MLP's cash flow comes from sources that are either regulated or operated under fixed contracts, ensuring a steady stream of cash to fund its distribution -- the MLP version of a dividend -- which currently yields about 5.3%.
Brookfield's 2019 asset purchases seem unbelievably well timed in light of the current crisis. It picked up a set of data infrastructure assets in New Zealand and telecom towers in India. With both those countries on lockdown, there's going to be a lot of demand for these services.
Brookfield Infrastructure Partners is targeting a 12% to 15% return on equity and annual distribution growth of 5% to 9%. Its trustworthy management team has a strong track record of delivering on its growth promises. This is one pick you're likely to want to hang on to even after the coronavirus market crash is a distant memory.
Selling the most essential product on the planet
Beth McKenna (American Water Works): Fresh water is the very last thing that consumers will cut back on during economic downturns. So there is no better way to ride out tough economic times than with a top-quality water utility. Not only do water utilities provide the most essential product we need to live (other than air, which is free), but their core regulated businesses are monopolies, so they're protected from competition and are guaranteed a solid rate of return.
American Water Works remains my favorite in the group. It's the giant in the U.S. water and wastewater industry, with regulated operations in 16 states and a presence in 46 states. Its industry-leading size and wide geographic footprint provide it with an advantage in acquisitions. This factor has become more important in recent years, because the pace of industry consolidation has picked up.
The one potential wildcard is that CEO Susan Story retired on April 1. She led the company for six years and deserves much of the credit for the stock's outperformance over this period. However, the transition should be as seamless as possible, because the company's longtime COO, Walter Lynch, succeeded Story.
American Water's dividend is currently yielding about 1.5%. Yes, that's quite modest. But if your primary goal is to maximize total capital appreciation, you'd be hard pressed to find a more stable dividend payer than American Water.
The company has increased its dividend every year since it went public in 2008. It has a relatively conservative dividend policy, targeting a payout ratio between 50% and 60% of net income. Thanks to its robust earnings growth, this has translated into annual dividend increases averaging just over 10% over the last three years. Within about the next 10 days, investors should be learning what the company's dividend will be for 2020.
The chip manufacturer behind the tech heavyweights
Billy Duberstein (Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing): Technology stocks are generally not the best place to invest during a recession; however, the recession we are currently experiencing might be a little different. Weak consumer interest could dent demand for certain products, but an increase in demand for streaming video, remote work, and other digital activities could buoy demand for cloud servers and thus for leading-edge chips.
That should benefit Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing, the world's largest outsourced foundry. Taiwan Semi doesn't design its chips for itself but rather manufactures designs of other companies such as heavyweights Apple, NVIDIA, Qualcomm, and others.
Being the leading outsourced foundry has advantages. Customers don't have to build and run their own costly fabrication plants, and Taiwan Semi is able to accumulate manufacturing knowledge across a wide range of chips, from 5G modems to high-performance AI processors.
That advantage enabled Taiwan Semi to surpass Intel (INTC -2.31%) in producing a 7nm CPU for the first time last year. And despite worries about the coronavirus, according to DigiTimes, Taiwan Semi said its leading-edge 5nm capacity, set to ramp up this month, has already been fully booked. It appears that even though the coronavirus is dominating headlines, companies and countries are still looking to retain a technological edge even in these trying times.
Currently, Taiwan Semiconductor's dividend yields about 3.5%, and management has set a target of paying 70% of the company's free cash flow out as a dividend. Last year, Taiwan Semi switched from a single annual dividend policy to a quarterly policy, showing confidence that it will be a steady cash generator going forward.
On its conference call in January, management predicted foundry industry growth of 17% for 2020 and for Taiwan Semi to grow even faster due to its competitive advantages. While a recession might dent that growth figure this year, Taiwan Semi's existing dividend should remain intact and resume growth after the coronavirus crisis ends.