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Forget AT&T: Here Are 3 Better Dividend Stocks

By James Brumley - Apr 16, 2021 at 11:01AM

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Income-minded investors should think about more than just a currently attractive yield.

Telecom giant AT&T (T 1.67%) has its problems to be sure. It was only able to offload part of its struggling DIRECTV business, and that part was shed at a loss relative to its 2015 acquisition of the satellite television brand. In the meantime, its debt burden remains so large that the company wants to continue selling revenue-bearing assets like Chilevision, which was passed along to ViacomCBS earlier this month. Its fledgling streaming service, HBO Max (offered by AT&T's Warner Media arm), isn't exactly firing on all cylinders, either. Never even mind that AT&T at least postponed a dividend payout increase this year for the first time in 36 years. 

Yet there's no denying its current dividend yield of just under 7% is compelling.

Before you're lured by that relatively sizable payout, though, you might want to consider three other dividend payers instead. None of their yields are as high as AT&T's, but all three are attractive in ways this particular telecom name isn't.

A roll of $100 bills sitting next to a small "dividends" sign.

Image source: Getty Images.

1. Verizon

Dividend yield: 4.4%

Verizon (VZ 1.75%) has less going on outside of the telephony business than AT&T does, but that's for the best. AT&T's DIRECTV debacle, along with its struggle to make the most of 2018's $85 billion purchase of Warner Media, arguably serve as examples of what can happen when a company ventures to far outside of its core competencies.

Staying more fiscally focused on telecom has led Verizon to build a powerful fiber-optic network, which in turn leaves it best-positioned to lead the way into the 5G era. In its first-ever assessment of 5G networks, Root Metrics ranked Verizon's 5G network as the nation's best-in-class for all seven categories it was using to rank the competition.

5G speeds not only make smartphones more powerful but can be used to power wire-free, at-home broadband connections. Private 5G networks are another key growth opportunity, paving the way for the Internet of Things (IoT) movement.

Only time will tell how much this focus on its connectivity competencies will pay off. Things are promising, though. Unlike AT&T, Verizon did increase its dividend payout on schedule last year, and it hasn't hinted this year will be the first year of the past 15 it won't do so. Indeed, just a decade away from achieving the Dividend Aristocrat status that its chief rival is now at risk of relinquishing, Verizon may be even more motivated than usual to increase its payout when that time comes in September.

2. PPL Corp.

Dividend yield: 5.8%

Utility stocks make for great dividend payers since utility companies' customers tend to make efforts to keep their lights on. That's why big power providers like Duke Energy and Southern Company are frequently found on lists of suggested dividend stocks.

Income-seeking investors looking to add a bit more dividend punch to their portfolio, however, may want to look a little further down the size scale. PPL Corp. (PPL 2.32%) may only sport a market cap of $22 billion, but its yield of 5.8% is one of the best within the sector.

PPL serves more than 10 million customers, with a presence in the U.S. and the United Kingdom. The company hasn't failed to raise its payout in any year since 2013, and taking that year out of the equation brings its growth streak to 20 years. Better yet, it can afford to pay them. PPL's current payout pace of $1.66 is well below last year's operating profit of $2.40 per share. That leaves the company with plenty of payment wiggle room, should it ever need it.

Granted, its dividend growth is minimal, even by utility stock standards. Over the course of the past decade, its payout has only grown at an average annual clip of about 2%, which more or less is just keeping up with inflation. You're starting out with an above-average yield, though, which mathematically makes it worth it.

3. Lockheed Martin

Dividend yield: 2.7%

Finally, stick Lockheed Martin (LMT 0.83%) on your list of dividend stocks other than AT&T to add to your portfolio sooner than later.

The defense and aerospace business seems unreliable on the surface. Aside from being a pawn of political infighting, the U.S. military and its foreign counterparts are demanding without being forgiving. Lockheed Martin's F-35 fighter jet is the air-superiority plane of the future. But it's cost way more than expected already, putting enormous pressure on the manufacturer to come up with cost-savings solutions. 

Governments can also make quick, disruptive decisions. Britain's Ministry of Defense recently decided to cancel planned upgrades to its fleet of Warrior armored fighting vehicles, forcing a Lockheed subsidiary to cut nearly 20% of its jobs at its Ampthill facility.

However, high-profile weapons like the F-35 and Lockheed's struggling hypersonic missile development program are the minority of what the company does. Much of its revenue is maintenance-oriented and logistical in nature, and far from being optional for military ministers. That's largely why Lockheed Martin has managed to grow year-over-year revenue every quarter since late 2016, and it has upped its dividend payment every year since 2003. Its current payout is also twice what it was just six years ago, qualifying it as one of the market's best dividend-growth blue chips.

In a similar vein, U.S. defense spending has grown every year since 2016, reaching a record high in 2020 that President Joe Biden reportedly wants to further increase.

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Stocks Mentioned

Lockheed Martin Corporation Stock Quote
Lockheed Martin Corporation
LMT
$433.52 (0.83%) $3.56
Verizon Communications Inc. Stock Quote
Verizon Communications Inc.
VZ
$51.64 (1.75%) $0.89
AT&T Inc. Stock Quote
AT&T Inc.
T
$21.31 (1.67%) $0.35
PPL Corporation Stock Quote
PPL Corporation
PPL
$27.76 (2.32%) $0.63

*Average returns of all recommendations since inception. Cost basis and return based on previous market day close.

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