With bond yields in the basement, many income-seeking investors are gravitating to dividend stocks because of relatively high yields in the category and a lack of viable alternatives. Not every company paying a big dividend will go on to be a winner, however, and it's important to hone in on businesses that are resilient enough to keep checks flowing back to shareholders.
Companies offering yields above 5% often have relatively weak growth outlooks or face other challenges, but finding worthwhile investments in the category is still possible -- and rewarding. Read on to see why AT&T (NYSE:T), Altria Group (NYSE:MO), and PPL (NYSE:PPL) stand out as top picks for investors seeking huge dividends.
Telecom giant AT&T has a 6.8% dividend yield and a 36-year streak of annual dividend growth. The company's stock has dipped roughly 22.5% this year and trades at roughly 9.5 times this year's expected earnings -- a valuation that looks appealing despite pressures on the business.
The telecom giant's mobile wireless division and its WarnerMedia entertainment content wing have plenty of promise, but its DirecTV satellite television division is getting hit hard by cord-cutting trends. It's hard to envision a realistic scenario that will reverse DirecTV's sales and earnings, and the decline looks even more significant because AT&T's efforts to launch over-the-top competitors to services such as Netflix and Walt Disney's Disney+ haven't been very successful.
The company recently launched HBO Max, a streaming service that combines programming from the namesake premium cable network with content from other WarnerMedia divisions and movies and shows from third-party sources. With early data showing HBO Max has gotten off to a slow start, AT&T's video business has a tough road ahead.
Challenges for the telecom's video businesses and the company's massive debt load amid a recessionary economic climate have weighed on the stock this year, but AT&T still has the makings of a top high-yield stock. The company's mobile wireless division still looks very sturdy and should enjoy tailwinds over the next decade as it transitions consumers and businesses to high-speed 5G networks. The company's trailing free cash flow easily covers its forward dividend payout, and AT&T's outlook could improve if the company can leverage strengths in wireless service and entertainment content to win subscribers in 5G and pursue growth opportunities in digital advertising.
2. Altria Group
Altria Group stock has slumped roughly 18% year to date amid volatility for the broader market and mounting evidence that the company overpaid for acquisitions at the heart of its diversification push.
Altria stock yields 8.2% and trades at roughly 9.5 times this year's expected earnings. Declining cigarette volume sales prompted the tobacco giant to pursue growth opportunities in other product categories, but those initiatives haven't panned out so far.
Altria acquired a 35% stake in fast-growing e-cigarette company Juul at the end of 2018 in a $12.8 billion deal. Tightened regulatory standards have dampened the growth outlook for the e-cigarette market and crushed Juul's valuation, and the vape-maker cut its internal valuation of the company to $13 billion early in May.
The FTC is also suing to unwind the tobacco giant's investment in the vaping company, alleging that Altria broke antitrust laws by agreeing to exit the e-cigarette market as a condition to securing its stake in Juul. The deal has been a clear misfire, and Altria's valuation has suffered for it. On the other hand, heightened regulatory roadblocks for e-cigarette companies might mean reduced competitive pressures for Altria's core tobacco business.
Despite weakening cigarette unit volumes, Altria has managed to grow overall sales by raising prices. Brand strength and the addictive nature of the company's products could allow it to extend its streak of slow, but steady, sales growth, and the business remains very profitable. The company looks cheaply valued, and it offers what looks like a sustainable dividend for investors who are willing to weather some uncertainty.
3. PPL Corp
PPL is an electric company that provides service to the U.K., Kentucky, and Pennsylvania -- and its stock deserves attention from investors looking for big yield in the utilities space. Shares have posted substantial recovery from lows hit as coronavirus-driven sell-offs rocked the broader market in March, but they still trade down roughly 25% year to date and look attractively valued.
The stock is now valued at roughly 11 times this year's expected earnings and sports a dividend yield of approximately 6.2%. The company has consistently paid a quarterly dividend since 1946 and has increased its annual payout 18 times over the last 19 years.
With the Dow Jones Industrial Average now down roughly 8.5% year to date after rallying over the last couple months and the S&P 500 down just 3.5% on the year, PPL stock has seen a much weaker recovery compared to the broader market's rebound. However, PPL's near-term outlook doesn't appear to have shifted dramatically, and the business' long-term prospects remain solid.
The company recently reaffirmed its target for earnings per share between $2.40 and $2.60 for the year, indicating that business has held steady even as the world has faced challenges stemming from the novel coronavirus pandemic. Investors still have to contend with the possibility that PPL's U.K. segment (which accounts for the majority of earnings) could have performance hampered by new regulations, but shares look relatively low-risk and offer a great dividend at current prices.