Claiming impressive track records of 25 or more consecutive years of dividend increases wasn't enough to translate to solid performances during the first half of 2020. Even with the overall market rebound in the second quarter, more than twice as many Dividend Aristocrats were in negative territory year to date after the first six months of 2020 than were up for the year.
But there were still some big winners among the group. Several even chalked up double-digit gains. Here are the three best-performing Dividend Aristocrats during the first half of the year.
1. S&P Global
S&P Global (NYSE:SPGI) is one of only 24 S&P 500 index members to have increased its dividend for 47 consecutive years. And it was the top-performing Dividend Aristocrat in the first half of 2020, with a gain of nearly 21%.
Most financial stocks performed poorly as the COVID-19 pandemic negatively impacted the economy. S&P Global, however, was an exception to the rule. The company focuses on selling data and analytics to clients. Although its business model didn't totally insulate S&P Global from the overall beatdown in the financial services sector, its shares rebounded rapidly.
It's too soon to completely rule out headwinds for S&P Global resulting from the COVID-19 outbreak. A prolonged recession could hurt some of the company's clients and affect its new sales and subscription renewals. For now, though, S&P Global's business appears to be going full-steam ahead -- as is its dividend.
Lowe's (NYSE:LOW) ranks in the upper echelon of Dividend Aristocrats with a remarkable 57 consecutive years of dividend hikes. The home improvement retailer's stock performance was also among the best among the group during the first six months of the year, with Lowes' shares jumping nearly 13%.
The COVID-19 pandemic actually helped Lowe's. The company was declared an essential business and was able to keep its stores open across the country. Consumers who were stuck at home under shelter-in-place orders opted to embark on home-improvement projects. Lowe's reported 12% higher comparable-store sales in its fiscal first quarter, which ended on May 1, 2020, with rising profits.
CEO Marvin Ellison said in Lowe's quarterly update that the great performance continued beyond the end of the first quarter. However, the company has still suspended share repurchases because of the pandemic and doesn't expect to buy back any additional shares in 2020.
AbbVie (NYSE:ABBV) trailed Lowe's in terms of stock performance during the first half of the year with a gain of 11%. But the big pharma stock narrowly beat the home-improvement giant in total returns thanks to its strong dividend yield. Including its time as part of parent Abbott Labs (NYSE:ABT), AbbVie has increased its dividend for 47 years.
The solid first-half jump stemmed in part from AbbVie easily beating Wall Street's Q1 revenue and earnings estimates. AbbVie's top-selling drug Humira performed well. Several other drugs also picked up momentum, including new immunology drugs Rinvoq and Skyrizi and blood cancer drug Venclexta.
There were also other wins for AbbVie in the first half of 2020. Its acquisition of Allergan closed. The drugmaker scored a key patent litigation victory for Humira. It also inked a significant licensing and collaboration deal with GenMab.
Are they buys now?
I think that two of these three Dividend Aristocrats are still pretty good picks after their nice gains. The exception is S&P Global. I'm somewhat leery of S&P Global's valuation with shares trading at 33 times expected earnings. Lowe's and AbbVie, on the other hand, seem like solid picks. I like the long-term trends for home improvement. My view is that AbbVie will effectively navigate the loss of U.S. patent exclusivity for Humira.