We're not even halfway through 2020 yet, and there's little question in my mind we'll be talking about it for a generation to come. In a span of 33 calendar days, beginning on Feb. 19, panic and uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic sent the benchmark S&P 500 down by 34%. This was the fastest descent from an all-time high in the stock market's history, and it triggered the highest volatility reading ever on the CBOE Volatility Index.
Yet, over the subsequent 10 weeks, the S&P 500 has rallied 40%, and now has its old highs at least within sight. Investors have seemingly experienced a decade's worth of volatility in a span of 3.5 months.
In times of heightened volatility, dividend stocks are an investors' best friend
With emotions running high, there's perhaps no better investment consideration than dividend stocks. Companies that share a percentage of their profits with their investors often have time-tested business models and a clear expectation for continued growth. Receiving a dividend during times of heightened fear can also keep long-term investors from making a hasty decision and selling their stake in a great business.
The challenge is finding the right dividend stocks to buy. We'd all like the highest yield possible with the least risk -- unfortunately, risk and yield tend to be correlated. This means that high-yield dividend stocks can occasionally be more trouble than they're worth. But that's not always the case.
If you have $5,000 in disposable cash that you won't need to pay bills or cover emergencies, then the following four high-yield dividend stocks look like veritable money machines for income seekers.
Arguably the safest high-yield dividend stock you can buy is telecom giant AT&T (T -2.12%). Even though AT&T's high-growth days are long gone, and the company shelved its share buyback program to conserve cash in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, the company's juicy 6.6% yield and its 36-year streak of increasing its payout are perfectly safe.
One of the most intriguing near-term catalysts for AT&T is the ongoing rollout of 5G networks. Though upgrading its wireless infrastructure won't be cheap, the payoff should be a multiyear technology upgrade cycle that leads to a steady and significant uptick in data usage. Data has always been the key margin driver for AT&T's wireless segment.
Additionally, AT&T expects to benefit from the launch of the HBO Max streaming service, which occurred on May 27. An HBO Max subscription comes with more than 10,000 hours of premium content, and it could be just the dangling carrot needed to offset traditional cable cord-cutting.
Trust me, I get it! IBM (IBM -0.57%) is like the vanilla ice cream of the tech sector. But boring stocks can sometimes make for beautiful investments – especially when they're yielding 5.1% and the company in question recently increased its payout for the 25th consecutive year.
Perhaps the biggest boost moving forward for IBM is the acquisition of Red Hat, which closed last year. There's no denying that IBM was late to the party in cloud-computing, but it's done a good job of increasing its cloud revenue as a percentage of total sales over the past five years. The Red Hat buyout will accelerate this transition toward fast-growing, high-margin cloud-service revenue. In its recently completed first quarter, IBM announced total cloud sales up 19%, with cloud revenue now accounting for 31% of total sales.
IBM has also done a standup job on the cost-cutting front. Despite declining legacy sales, margins in legacy operations have climbed as IBM has streamlined these operations. In other words, even though IBM's sales have left a lot to be desired, it's still generating plenty of cash flow and hefty per-share profits.
Philip Morris International
It would also be safe to say that the high-growth days for tobacco companies have come and gone. However, that doesn't mean a giant like Philip Morris International (PM -1.76%) can't deliver big-time income with its 6.3% yield.
One of the more important factors working in Philip Morris' favor is the fact that it operates in more than 180 countries worldwide, of which the U.S. is not one. Even though it's facing some serious marketing backlash from developed countries, there are just as many developing and emerging market economies with a burgeoning middle class looking for simple luxuries, such as tobacco. This geographic diversity, along with the incredible pricing power associated with tobacco products, allows Philip Morris to continue growing its top line.
Philip Morris also stands to benefit from the proliferation of its proprietary heated tobacco system IQOS. The company's heated tobacco unit market share rose 190 basis to 6.6% in the first quarter, with the total number of IQOS users increasing to 14.6 million and heated tobacco unit shipment volume rising almost 46%.
Income investors with $5,000 in spare capital should also consider sinking their teeth into oil and gas giant ExxonMobil (XOM -2.06%). ExxonMobil's 7.1% yield and 37-year streak of raising its dividend makes it a money machine for shareholders.
Although the COVID-19 pandemic backed ExxonMobil into a bit of a corner in recent months as demand fell off a cliff, it has a few tricks up its sleeve to survive this economic downturn. For instance, even though ExxonMobil generates its juiciest profits from its upstream drilling and exploration segment, it can lean on its downstream operations (refiners and petrochemical) when the price of crude falls. Typically, a falling crude price increases demand for petrol products, boosting operating cash flow from its downstream operations.
ExxonMobil also has levers it can pull on the expense front. Recently, management announced that it would reduce planned capital expenditures by as much as $10 billion from a previous range of $30 billion to $33 billion in spending. Cost reductions, along with the crude market making a furious comeback in recent weeks, should allow ExxonMobil to preserve its top-notch dividend.