If you are in sound financial shape and have adequate emergency reserves set up, then investing your $1,400 stimulus check in stocks can be a great move. And you can do so without putting the money at much risk, either.
Investing in Dividend Aristocrats that have excellent track records for paying and increasing dividend payments can help give you a solid, safe return over the long term while you also collect some recurring cash flow along the way. Becton, Dickinson (NYSE:BDX) and Target (NYSE:TGT) belong to that exclusive club, and are performing well amid the pandemic while still being relatively cheap buys right now.
1. Becton, Dickinson
In the past year, shares of Becton, Dickinson have generated total returns (including dividends) of just under 10% while the S&P 500 would have increased your portfolio's value by 65% over the same time frame. The healthcare stock offers stability, and that often comes at a cost of higher potential returns. But with a presence in more than 50 countries around the world and providing the industry with essential medical instruments and supplies, it is a business that looks rock solid.
The company has also adapted well to the pandemic, offering COVID-19 testing products that have been driving a lot of its growth of late. On Feb. 4, Becton, Dickinson reported its first-quarter results and sales of $5.3 billion for the period ending Dec. 31, 2020, were up an incredible 25.8% year over year. That's an impressive rate given that in fiscal 2020 its top line was down 1% from the previous year.
The company credits 20.5 percentage points of its recent growth to COVID-19 testing. It expects that for fiscal 2021, its top line will grow between 12% and 14%. And with a strong bottom line, investors can expect a lot of that incremental revenue to flow through to net income. Becton, Dickinson has posted a profit in each of the past five fiscal years, with its net margin above 5% in all but one of those years. And over the trailing 12 months, its profit margin has been closer to 9%.
What's most important for income investors is the stability of its dividend, and with a payout ratio of 65%, there's no reason to worry about the company's cash payments coming to an end anytime soon. On Nov. 24, 2020, the company announced it was hiking its dividend payments for the 49th year in a row -- making it one year away from becoming a Dividend King.
With the 5.1% increase, investors will now be earning $0.83 every quarter for each share of the business they own. That equates to a yield of around 1.4% -- slightly below the S&P 500 average of 1.5%. However, with the stock trading at a forward price-to-earnings (P/E) multiple of less than 19, it's a cheap buy given the 27 times earnings the average stock in the Health Care Select Sector SPDR Fund trades at today.
While Becton, Dickinson likely won't turn your $1,400 stimulus payment into $1 million, it also won't put your investment at risk and it can be one of the safest stocks to buy right now, especially if you love dividends.
Big-box retailer Target has been a much better buy over the past year as its total returns during that period are at 90%. Although COVID-19 lockdowns negatively impacted many businesses in 2020, Target has enjoyed some strong quarters. Many consumers are flocking to its site to make online purchases or visiting its stores, which can often be one-stop shops for buyers looking to make the most of their trips.
On March 2, Target released its fourth-quarter numbers and sales of $28.3 billion grew 21.1% from the prior-year period, which included digital sales growth of 118%. The company said 2020 was such an outstanding year that its $15 billion revenue growth (19.8% on a percentage basis) was more than it grew over the previous 11 years. Needless to say, it will be tough for the company to replicate that level of success in 2021, and given the uncertainty ahead with COVID-19, the company is not making any projections for the upcoming quarter or the fiscal year as a whole.
Target will likely see its numbers come down once concerns related to the pandemic ease. But like Becton, Dickinson, the company is a safe bet to remain a good investment and it has reported profit margins of around 4% or better in each of the past five fiscal years. While they aren't amazing, they are enough to keep the dividend going. Like the healthcare giant, the company has also increased its dividend for 49 years in a row -- the most recent hike coming on June 11, 2020. Its quarterly payment of $0.68 now provides investors with a yield of around 1.4%. With a payout ratio of close to 30%, Target has ample room to increase its payouts, making it almost certain that it will graduate to the ranks of a Dividend King later this year.
At a forward P/E of 21, Target is still not too expensive given that the average stock in the SPDR S&P 500 ETF trades at 28 times its earnings. Although there may be a slowdown in sales this year, Target is still going to be a popular place to shop regardless of what happens with COVID-19, given the store's flexible pickup and delivery options (particularly for customers who have gotten used to them), and its wide range of products. It's a solid defensive stock to hold in your portfolio that can help make the most of your stimulus check without putting the money in harm's way.