Tina Turner had a big hit in the late '80s with a song called "The Best." The lyrics to the great R&B singer's tune included the line: "You're simply the best. Better than all the rest."
It's not always a simple task to identify "the best" in every category, though. For example, there are nearly 70 Dividend Aristocrats. These are members of the S&P 500 that have increased their dividends for at least 25 consecutive years. As you might expect, the list includes a lot of solid, well-run companies that are household names.
I set out to determine which of these stocks is better than all the rest. Here's the best Dividend Aristocrat on the market right now.
A healthcare giant
After examining all of the current Dividend Aristocrats, I selected Abbott Laboratories (ABT -0.69%) as the best in the group. The company is a healthcare giant with a market cap of well over $200 billion and has been in business since 1888.
Abbott has paid a dividend for a remarkable 388 consecutive quarters. That streak began way back in 1924 when Calvin Coolidge was president. The company has increased its dividend for 49 years in a row and will probably move into the even more prestigious group of dividend stocks known as Dividend Kings -- S&P 500 members with at least 50 years of consecutive dividend increases -- later this year.
Like several other Dividend Aristocrats, Abbott is well diversified. It's a leader in multiple markets, including branded generic drugs, cardiovascular care, chronic pain devices, diabetes care, diagnostics, and nutritional products.
Through the years, the company has become highly respected. For example, Fortune magazine has named Abbott as the No. 1 company in its industry on its list of "Top 50 Most Admired Companies" for eight years running. Fortune also picked Abbott as one of its "Best Big Companies to Work for 2020."
But while Abbott is a giant, it's a nimble one. Fast Company selected it as the "World Changing Company of the Year 2020."
What really sets Abbott apart
Of course, other Dividend Aristocrats have great dividend track records (some even better than Abbott's). Many of them are also respected and have received numerous accolades. But there's one thing that really sets Abbott apart from the rest -- its growth.
Dividend stocks aren't always known for delivering tremendous growth. Abbott is definitely an exception, and its growth applies to revenue, earnings, and stock performance.
Abbott reported year-over-year revenue growth of 29% in its Q4 results announced last week. The company's adjusted earnings per share soared 53%. Unsurprisingly, Abbott Labs stock vaulted 26% higher last year and is up close to 10% so far in 2021.
Wall Street analysts project that the company will deliver average annual earnings growth of more than 16% over the next five years. Abbott has several growth drivers that should enable it to meet analysts' expectations. Its COVID-19 testing business is booming, and even once the pandemic ends, there'll likely be continued demand for testing. The company's FreeStyle Libre continuous glucose monitoring system and MitraClip mitral regurgitation device also should deliver strong sales growth.
Importantly, Abbott should be able to grow regardless of what happens with the overall economy. Some of the other Dividend Aristocrats' growth is linked tightly to macroeconomic factors. But people will need Abbott's products no matter what.
Quality isn't cheap
Some might be hesitant about Abbott's valuation. Its shares currently trade at more than 24 times expected earnings, which is admittedly a premium price.
However, you get what you pay for. With its dividend track record, sterling reputation, financial strength, and tremendous growth prospects, Abbott is without question a stock of the highest quality. And quality isn't cheap.
There are other great Dividend Aristocrats. But I think that Abbott Labs is -- as Tina Turner might say -- simply the best.