In some regards, baby boomers' loyalty is surprising. AT&T (T 0.90%) shares are now only down 35% from their 2016 peak but are priced around half of their 1999 peak. Indeed, last month, the stock hit new 52-week lows, underscoring its persistently poor performance.
In other regards, though, it's not terribly difficult to understand baby boomers' continued willingness to hold on to their AT&T position. In spite of its problems (and there are plenty of them), AT&T's dividend continues to march on. It's grown at least a little every year for the past 36 years (qualifying it for Dividend Aristocrat status), and the payout as a portion of income is pretty generous, too.
There's also something of an "X factor" buried in older investors' affinity for the telecom giant. They likely grew up with the company, watching it mature into the powerhouse it is today.
AT&T offers reliable income -- and nostalgia
Don't misread the message. Apple is the No. 1 pick right now among all investors regardless of their age, according to data from Apex Clearing and brokerage firm Charles Schwab. That may be a function of its size more than it's a function of its plausible prospects. With Apple's market cap of $2 trillion, not only are other stocks crowded out of view, it's also just easy to learn more about the consumer technology behemoth. Ditto for Amazon, which is the No. 2 pick for all investors these days.
If there's a pick baby boomers clearly love more than millennials do, however, it's AT&T.
As was noted, the dividend arguably plays a big role in older investors' interest. It's been paid religiously since the 1980s and grown every year for the past 36. Not even the rough patch following the dot-com meltdown of 2000 (which impacted telecom, too) or the recession prompted by 2008's subprime mortgage crisis was enough to interrupt the company's regular cash payments to shareholders. And in some of those years, paying it wasn't easy. But AT&T found a way.
Investors tacitly appreciate a commitment to continued dividend payouts. As these investors have aged toward their retirement years, that reliable income has become all the more important.
However, there's another, less obvious reason baby boomers may have stuck with the less-than-impressive name for so long: nostalgia.
It's largely been forgotten by older investors and never realized by younger ones, but the AT&T of today is akin -- again -- to the AT&T of yesteryear. It's the messy culmination of several acquisitions and spinoffs involving Southwestern Bell, BellSouth, Cingular, Comcast, and others.
When you hear your elders talking about "the baby Bells" and "Ma Bell," they're talking about the smaller outfits that would eventually start to re-form as AT&T beginning in the 1980s, after the Department of Justice broke up the bigger Bell company. The AT&T name itself, however, has been around for over a century even if it was called American Telephone & Telegraph in its earliest days.
Sometimes it's nice to own a piece of a company that's been around for as long as you have! Such options are pretty slim nowadays.
Johnson & Johnson gets honorable mention
AT&T isn't the only name baby boomers have a clear affinity for that their children or grandchildren don't. Johnson & Johnson (JNJ 0.01%) is another decided favorite among older investors.
There are plenty of parallels between J&J and AT&T, but lackluster performance isn't one of them. Johnson & Johnson shares have outpaced the broad market for the past three decades despite its liabilities linked to asbestos found in its baby powder. While most investors may not fully appreciate it, the company isn't just Band-Aids and baby shampoo anymore. More than half of its revenue is driven by prescription pharmaceutical sales.
The fact that most baby boomers have used Band-Aid brand bandages and Johnson & Johnson baby shampoo doesn't diminish the company's appeal to these investors. Neither does its dividend. J&J has increased its annual payout for 58 consecutive years now, making it a Dividend Aristocrat, but also one of the rare Dividend Kings.