It's hard to get a good return on your money these days if you're a conservative fixed-income investor. Treasury bills, notes, and bonds are yielding a pittance, and you'll need a monocle to make out the payouts on CDs and money market funds. This is where income investors tend to approach dividend-paying stocks if they're willing to stomach the risks.
Altria (MO 1.52%), AT&T (T 0.64%), and China Mobile (CHL) are three such stocks. They're yielding more than 5%, and they're all trading lower in 2020, bucking the otherwise buoyant market. In short, they're out of favor. But the potential for capital gains to go along with the steady trickle of distributions makes them tempting considerations right now.
You don't have to be a fan of Altria. We know that cigarettes aren't good for you, and the tobacco giant has gone deeper down the "sin stock" rabbit hole by taking significant stakes in leading vaping and cannabis companies.
Despite the challenges, though, Altria's still growing. This will be the ninth year in a row that Altria grows its revenue. The gains have been small in that run -- never more than 6% in any given year -- but growth is growth. After boosting its dividend 54 times over the past 50 years, it did so again last month, a move that finds the stock currently yielding 8%.
Ma Bell is crying uncle these days. The telco giant seemed to be awakening from its slumber last year, after being pushed by an activist to unlock shareholder value. Now it's been tapping the snooze bar in 2020. The stock has fallen 24% this year, reversing the lion's share of last year's gains.
It's easy to find the weak spots in AT&T's armor. It's losing DIRECTV satellite television subscribers. Its legacy wireline business is fading. There are some compelling assets it picked up in its WarnerMedia megadeal, but the recent rollout of HBO Max without a presence on two of the leading streaming hubs seems like a big mistake. Even on the wireless front -- the shining star for AT&T over the years -- business is slumping, with a dearth of international travel eating into roaming revenue.
The stock's yield is up to 7% with its slipping share price. The dividend is likely to get bumped higher later this year, the way AT&T has done every year since 1985. It joins Altria as a Dividend Aristocrat, and it would probably sell underperforming assets before nixing that payout-boosting streak.
Let's stick with telco for the third pick, but let's travel all the way to the world's most populous nation. China Mobile is the country's top dog in wireless. It had 947 million wireless customers at the end of June, less than the 950 million it had when the year began, but a sequential uptick from the 946 million it was serving at the end of March. It remains to be seen if the first quarter's slip was a COVID-19 fluke.
The positives include that its wireline broadband accounts are growing, up to 197 million at the end of June. China Mobile is also seeing healthy support for the 5G migration taking place in the country. Revenue growth has been sluggish in recent years, but it's hard to deny the long-term appeal of owning China's leading wireless service provider. The stock's yield of 5.5% will reward patient investors as they see this revolution play out.