Following more than five months of debate, it's a done deal: More than 100 million Americans have another stimulus check on the way.
The nearly $900 billion stimulus package signed into law by President Trump provides $284 billion to the Paycheck Protection Program, increases federal weekly unemployment benefits by $300 through mid-March, and allocates funding for coronavirus vaccine distribution. Most of the buzz surrounding this stimulus deal concerns the up to $600 payments going out to working Americans and families. According to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, stimulus payouts should begin hitting bank accounts this week.
For some Americans, the stimulus money provides a financial lifeline to pay bills, bolster an emergency fund, or put food on the table. But for others, that stimulus check could be invested in the greatest wealth creator on the planet: the stock market.
Although growth stocks have proved unstoppable in recent years, dividend stocks have the longer-term track record of outperformance. Ideally, income investors want the highest yield possible with the least amount of risk. However, yield and risk are often correlated. Since yield is simply a function of payout relative to share price, a struggling or failing business with a tumbling stock price can trap unwitting income seekers.
The good news is that there's a trio of trustworthy ultra-high-yield dividend stocks that can be purchased right now with your $600 stimulus check.
Annaly Capital Management: 10.4% yield
For the past eight years, Wall Street professionals have universally disliked few industries more than mortgage real estate investment trusts (REITs). But beginning in 2021, and for many years thereafter, mortgage REITs like Annaly Capital Management (NYSE:NLY) are poised to outperform.
The mortgage REIT operating model is basically to borrow money at lower short-term lending rates and acquire assets with higher long-term yields. In Annaly's case, the assets it's acquiring are usually mortgage-backed securities (MBSs). The difference between the yield it'll receive from these MBSs and its short-term borrowing rate is the net interest margin, or NIM. The wider the NIM, or the more leverage Annaly employs, the more profitable the company.
In other words, this industry is sensitive to interest rates. When the yield curve was flattening in 2019 and early 2020, Annaly's NIM was shrinking. However, during periods of recovery from a recession, it's common to see a multiyear widening of the gap between short- and long-term yields. Put another way, Annaly's NIM should expand considerably in the coming years.
What's more, Annaly almost exclusively focuses on agency-backed MBSs. This means its assets are protected by the federal government in the event of default. As you can imagine, the yields on agency assets are substantially lower than nonagency assets. On the plus side, the protection afforded by this backing allows Annaly to use leverage to pump up its profits.
I fully expect Annaly's yield to hover around 10%, which, with reinvestment, could double your initial investment in about seven years.
Altria Group: 8.4% yield
Another ultra-high-yield stock that can generate significant income for stimulus check recipients is tobacco giant Altria Group (NYSE:MO). While its name might not ring a bell, its Marlboro brand holds the lion's share of the premium cigarette market in the U.S.
Health regulators have long worked to lower adult cigarette smoking rates. In 2019, the adult cigarette smoking rate hit a new low of 14%. That's a third of where it stood in the mid-1960s. This would seem to be bad news for Altria -- but looks can be deceiving.
Altria has exceptional pricing power with its premium Marlboro brand. Since nicotine is an addictive chemical, Altria has been able to pass along price hikes each year that have more than offset the modest decline in cigarette shipment volumes. Even with cigarette use down, revenue continues to tick upward thanks to higher prices.
Altria is also aggressively reinvesting in tobacco alternatives. It's launching the IQOS heated tobacco system in a number of new U.S. markets. It also took a $1.8 billion equity investment in Canadian pot stock Cronos Group in March 2019. The expectation is that Altria will work with Cronos to develop and market cannabis vape products in Canada, and eventually throughout North America.
With the company committed to paying out approximately 80% of its adjusted earnings per share as a dividend, this 8.4% yield looks highly sustainable and quite profitable for income seekers.
AT&T: 7.3% yield
It would also be a smart idea to put your $600 stimulus check to work in telecom giant AT&T (NYSE:T). Although AT&T won't be increasing its payout for the first time in 37 years, it's holding firm on its $2.08 annual dividend, which works out to a hearty 7.3% yield.
The AT&T growth story boils down to two core catalysts. To begin with, we're witnessing the first major upgrade of wireless infrastructure and download speeds in about a decade. The result should be a multiyear tech upgrade cycle for businesses and consumers. That's great news because the juiciest margins in AT&T's wireless segment are driven by data consumption.
The other significant growth driver for AT&T is streaming content. In late May, AT&T launched HBO MAX, with the expectation that it would more than offset the cord-cutting associated with its DIRECTV subsidiary. Though activated user growth was initially unimpressive, it increased by nearly 50% to 12.6 million in early December from 8.6 million near the end of October. The potential to stream new movie releases might prove irresistible to consumers.
This is also a good time to mention that AT&T's management team is working diligently to improve its balance sheet and reduce the company's outstanding debt. Halting the company's share buyback program, selling noncore assets, and potentially even parting ways with DIRECTV are all ways management can preserve the safety of AT&T's juicy dividend.
Reinvesting your payouts could double your money in just shy of 10 years.