Many companies trimmed their dividend payments during the coronavirus pandemic to conserve cash, while others temporarily suspended them. Anheuser-Busch InBev found it necessary to slash its payout twice in two years as the COVID-19 outbreak threatened its finances.
Yet some companies not only maintained their dividends during the crisis, but even increased them, showing the underlying strength of their business. The three stocks below all have long histories of raising their dividends that put them in the category of Dividend Aristocrats, but also juice investor returns with significant capital appreciation, substantially beating the S&P 500 over the past decade.
The toast of the town
While its last increase occurred last November, when it rose 5% to $0.697 from $0.664 annually, the payout only yields 1% and the payout ratio, or the amount of earnings a company uses to pay the dividend, is a modest 37%, suggesting its dividend is sustainable.
The distiller's business was hurt by restaurants being forced to close except for takeout or delivery during the pandemic. That segment accounts for 20% of revenue, and with the travel industry, another key component of Brown-Forman's operations, being decimated, total revenue fell 5% in its fiscal fourth quarter.
The quarter was salvaged by strong off-premise sales at packaged goods stores and the like, with its premium brands growing underlying net sales at double-digit rates. While it wasn't enough to offset the on-premise decline, now that restaurants and bars are reopening, Brown-Forman ought to get back on track. And because there is sufficient padding in its dividend policy, it ought to be able to keep raising the payout for many more years to come.
Spicing things up
McCormick & Co. (NYSE:MKC) has an even longer track record of paying a dividend than Brown-Forman, issuing a payout to investors for 96 consecutive years, and it has raised it for 34 straight years. Its current annualized dividend rate is $2.48 per share.
But like the distiller, its dividend only yields 1.2%, with a similar payout ratio of 42%. Its conservative management of its money has served it well for nearly a century, but indicates the company has room to do more for shareholders.
McCormick was also hurt by the pandemic's effect on the restaurant industry, but its consumer segment more than made up for it as people were forced to stay home and did more of their own cooking.
Currency adjusted second-quarter sales grew 10% from last year, leading to a 24% spike in operating profits. The increased demand for its products is forcing the spice maker to say it will run its production facilities around the clock until at least the end of the year to meet the consumer demand.
With a strong record of sales growth and dividend increases, retirees and more youthful investors alike should consider McCormick for their portfolios.
Room to grow
Technology companies are not known for overly generous dividend payments, and Roper Technologies' (NYSE:ROP) yield of 0.5% certainly fits the mold, as does its payout ratio of just 24%.
That's typically a turnoff to income investors because management isn't using its cash to reward shareholders with a bigger cut of its profits, and Roper is a prodigious cash generator that consistently boasts rising revenue and margins. Yet it has made up for it in price appreciation of its stock, which has risen 600% over the past 10 years, far outstripping the returns of Brown-Forman, McCormick, and the S&P 500, which has "only" tripled in value over that time.
Roper is a mix of businesses, though, an amalgamation of industrial and tech businesses that it has put together through a growth-by-acquisition strategy across software, networks, and industrial measurement and process automation.
The companies it buys are typically asset-light, so it needn't invest a lot in capital expenditures, and it can continue to plow the money back into the business. It also opens things up to increase its dividend, which it has done for 27 consecutive years.
This isn't a stock most income investors would seek out, but it holds the potential for greater changes in its dividend to benefit shareholders in the years to come.