Interest rates may still be lingering near multi-decade lows hit just a few months back, and even starting to sink again. But, curiously, not all dividend-paying stocks are reflecting this low-rate environment with similarly low yields. A few income-oriented equities continue to pay above-average dividends. You just might have to venture off the beaten path to find them.
Here's a rundown of three top stocks with high dividend yields that may be at home in your portfolio.
Dividend yield: 6.9%
Yes, it's got its share of problems. The company's cable television brands shed another 620,000 paying customers last quarter, and for the first time since 2005 it didn't raise its dividend payment in the first quarter of the fiscal year. These headwinds, coupled with a long-term debt burden of $160 billion, has kept continual pressure on the organization's stock for years now.
Mostly obscured by all the negative narratives, however, is that AT&T (NYSE:T) is still an incredible cash cow.
Supported by its massive phone business and surprisingly healthy growth from its entertainment ventures, the company's first-quarter operating profit of $0.86 per share is not only $0.02 better than the year-ago figure, but easily more than enough to cover the current quarterly dividend payout of $0.52.
It wasn't a one-off, either; AT&T generated per-share earnings of $3.18 in 2020. That was down from 2019's total, but consider the circumstances. The COVID-19 pandemic was incredibly disruptive, and the company still managed to earn more than enough to cover its full-year dividend payments of $2.08 per share.
The Williams Companies
Dividend yield: 7%
Although investors typically treat stocks from the same industry like they're all in the same proverbial basket, this isn't always the case. For example, so-called pipeline companies may transport natural gas and crude oil from one place to another. Their bottom lines, however, aren't intrinsically linked to the price of oil and gas the way explorers' and services' bottom lines are. Pipeline companies are paid on a per-barrel or per-cubic-foot basis, and the prices being charged for delivery of these commodities don't change much simply because the consumption of these commodities is steady.
One only has to look at The Williams Companies (NYSE:WMB) -- one of the biggest and best natural pipeline companies -- to see how this dynamic holds up. Despite last year's suppressed oil and gas prices, service revenue of a little more than $5.9 billion essentially matched 2019's total. In this vein, the U.S. Energy Information Administration reports that the country's consumption of natural gas only fell 2% last year, and further predicts that usage will remain stable through 2022. This in turn suggests the need for Williams' transportation services will remain stable, regardless of changing gas prices.
This recurring revenue business model is an ideal one for income-seeking investors. More than that though, Williams Companies shares remain only priced at levels seen just before the pandemic took hold and well below its 2018 peak. This means newcomers are stepping in while the yield's quite strong.
Dividend yield: 5.7%
It's not the world's best-known utility name, nor the biggest. What PPL lacks in size or notoriety, though, it makes up for in cash payments. Its trailing yield of 5.7% is the strongest among all the major U.S. utilities stocks. It's beefing up that payout, too -- at least by utility standards. The current quarterly payment rate of $0.415 per share translates into annualized payout growth of around 2%, which isn't thrilling, but at least keeps pace with the current rate of inflation. Perhaps more important, PPL hasn't failed to make a dividend payment for 301 consecutive quarters, and has upped its annual payout every year since 2000.
But what about PPL's impending restructuring? The company intends to divest its UK-based utility Western Power Distribution for net proceeds of $10.2 billion by the end of July, and is planning to acquire Rhode Island Narragansett Electric Utility from National Grid for $3.8 billion by March of next year. The deals will clearly change the fiscal scale of PPL's operation; Western Power Distribution accounts for about half the company's business. The utility has only said it doesn't expect its quarterly dividend to change before the Narragansett deal is done, which implies things could indeed change afterwards.
They won't necessarily change for the worse, though.
See, the transactions will net PPL proceeds of $6.8 billion, and perhaps more important, replace a more complicated asset with a better-suited one. Not only will this utility name become a fully U.S.-based one (shrugging off political, currency, and foreign regulatory risks in the process), Narragansett's rate base has grown an average of more than 9% for the past five years. Indeed, PPL says it's expecting a dividend coverage ratio of between 60% and 65% after these transactions are completed versus 2019's pre-COVID comparison of 67%, and plans to grow its dividend payout in step with the earnings growth that's still in the cards.
Point being, either through income or on the balance sheet or a combination of both, investors will be getting their due value. The current above-average yield is the risk premium for this unknown.