Over the past six months, many companies have cut or suspended their dividends to conserve cash throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. As those streams of passive income dried up, investors likely considered themselves lucky as long as their stocks maintained their existing payments.
However, there are still plenty of cash-rich companies that can easily afford to double their existing dividends without missing a beat. Let's take a closer look at three of those companies: Apple (AAPL -3.00%), Oracle (ORCL -0.54%), and Accenture (ACN -0.38%).
Apple reinstated its long-suspended dividend back in 2012, and it subsequently raised its payout every year. However, the stock's multi-year rally reduced its forward yield from over 2% in 2016 to just 0.7% today.
That paltry payout won't attract any serious income investors, but Apple spent less than 20% of its free cash flow on its dividend over the past 12 months -- which suggests it can easily afford to double its current yield.
Apple, which generated over half its year-to-date revenue from iPhones, still faces short- and long-term headwinds. In the near term, It needs to nurture the growth of its services ecosystem, sell more Apple Watches and AirPods to expand its hardware business, carefully navigate the trade war, and deal with the pandemic-induced delay of its 5G iPhones later this year.
Over the long term, it needs to curb its long-term dependence on the iPhone while expanding into next-gen hardware markets. That transition could be challenging, and investors are putting a lot of faith in Apple, as its stock trades at over 30 times forward earnings. Therefore, Apple could reward patient investors for sticking around as its valuations throttle the stock's near-term growth.
Oracle currently pays a forward yield of 1.7%, but it hasn't raised that payout in a year and a half. That isn't surprising, because Oracle usually favors buybacks over dividends: It bought back $19.2 billion in shares over the past 12 months, but spent just $3.1 billion on dividends.
Oracle spent just 27% of its FCF on dividends during that period. The company prefers to plow its cash into buybacks, since it helps the tech giant squeeze out earnings growth from its anemic revenue growth, but doubling its dividend could make it a more appealing tech dividend stock alongside other blue chips like IBM (IBM -2.32%) and Texas Instruments.
Like IBM, Oracle is struggling to expand its higher-growth cloud services and reduce its dependence on its legacy database and on-site software businesses. But analysts expect that turnaround to remain slow, with roughly flat revenue growth and 5% earnings growth this year, and investors aren't flocking to the stock -- which trades at just 14 times forward earnings. However, plowing more cash into its dividend could bring back more bulls.
Accenture currently pays a forward dividend yield of 1.3%. The IT services giant started paying annual dividends in 2005, switched to semi-annual dividends in 2010, then finally started paying quarterly dividends last year. Its annual dividend payments have risen every year since fiscal 2011.
Accenture generated 65% of its revenue from its "new" digital, cloud, and security markets last year, up from about 40% back in 2016, and that transformation enabled it to generate much stronger revenue and earnings growth than IT rivals like IBM.
Accenture also generated rock-solid growth throughout the COVID-19 crisis, as elevated demand for IT services from the health and public services sectors easily offset softer demand from other macro-sensitive industries. It expects its revenue and earnings to both grow about 4% in constant currency terms for the full fiscal year, which ended in late August.
Accenture's stock isn't cheap at nearly 30 times forward earnings, but that higher valuation highlights its strengths as a defensive investment in an increasingly wobbly market. Accenture spent just 23% of its FCF on its dividend over the past 12 months -- so it can easily afford to double its payout and lock in more income investors.