If you're worried about the election, you're not alone. According to one poll, nearly half of Americans said they aren't confident that the election will be carried out fairly.
Uncertainty around the election has already been elevated by the pandemic and President Trump's casting doubt on mail-in ballots. With the news that the president has tested positive for the virus, that election-related uncertainty has now reached a fever pitch, potentially forcing a number of unprecedented situations on the country.
Investors should brace themselves for volatility around the election, as results may not come in immediately and President Trump's health will cloud the situation in the meantime. Though the stock market should brush off any noise around the election over the long term, the coming months could be stormy as investors face not just election uncertainty, but the risk of rising Covid infections as the weather turns colder and a slowing economic recovery that could lead to a W-shaped recession.
Keep reading to see why Walmart (NYSE:WMT), Altria (NYSE:MO), and AT&T (NYSE:T) have what it takes to handle any election uncertainty, and have the strength to keep paying you dividends while they do it.
Walmart: A dominant essential retailer
Walmart is the world's largest company by revenue. Its strengths are readily apparent, including its everyday low prices, grocery pickup and delivery infrastructure, economies of scale, and convenient locations, as it has stores within 10 miles of 90% of the U.S. population.
Walmart's advantages have only grown during the pandemic thanks to its status as an essential retailer. Additionally, its reputation for low prices makes it popular during a recession, and its e-commerce infrastructure has helped it reach customers who don't want to come into its stores -- U.S. e-commerce sales nearly doubled in its most recent quarter. Its new Walmart+ membership program, its competitor to Amazon Prime, is also off to a good start, as 11% of Americans have already signed up for the program.
As a consumer staples giant, Americans will depend on Walmart for food, essentials, and other goods no matter what kind of chaos might ensue from the election. The Dividend Aristocrat has raised its quarterly payout every year for 46 years through several recessions and political crises, and there's little reason to doubt that it will do it again. Today, Walmart pays a dividend yield of 1.5%, and looks reasonably priced considering its strong growth potential in e-commerce.
Altria: A high-yield gem
Stressful situations tend to lead to higher smoking rates, and it's hard to recall a combination of crises more stressful than the current one, which include a pandemic, a recession, and a volatile election. Defensive stocks like Altria, the domestic maker of Marlboro and other tobacco brands, do best at moments like this, as consumers buy cigarettes regardless of the state of the overall economy.
Altria has been one of the best-performing stocks of the last 50 years, largely because of its prowess as a dividend stock. It has raised its dividend 55 times in the last 51 years and now offers a yield of 8.9%, making it one of the best options for investors looking for reliable, high-yield stocks.
While Altria has run into some challenges with its acquisition of a minority stake in Juul Labs, which has led to billions of dollars in writedowns, the core business remains solid, and adjusted earnings per share rose slightly in the most recent quarter even as the company faced challenges from the coronavirus pandemic. For the full year, management expects earnings per share to increase between flat and 4%.
Though cigarette consumption continues to decline in the U.S., the company is expanding sales of IQOS, the Philip Morris-made heat-not-burn e-cigarette, across the country as it paves the way for next-gen products. Its stake in Cronos Group also gives it exposure to the marijuana sector, which could take off if the drug is legalized in the U.S. Whatever happens in the election, Altria's business will be solid as a rock.
AT&T: A diversified telecom giant
AT&T may be best known as a provider of telecom services and the nation's #2 carrier, but the company also has stakes in pay TV through DirecTV and video entertainment through Warner Media, which includes the recently launched streaming service HBOMax.
Though the company may not win any awards for growth -- it's struggled to grow revenue in recent years as it's dealt with subscriber declines at DirecTV and maturity in its core telecom business -- that could change following the launch of HBOMax and the rollout of 5G, which could increased data subscription prices.
But the company stands out as a high-yield star for two reasons. It operates in a highly regulated three-company oligopoly with high barriers to entry, and it spins off mountains of free cash flow. During a difficult second quarter, as the company faced pandemic-related challenges, it still generated $7.6 billion in free cash flow, giving it a payout ratio of just 49%, meaning it can easily fund its dividend out of free cash flow. The company offers a 7.3% dividend yield today, and has raised its dividend every year since it started paying one in 1984.
The pandemic has shown how crucial connectivity is, and that isn't going away no matter what happens with the election.