The vast majority of retirement portfolios have one thing in common: They're powered by great dividend stocks.

Although most dividend stocks are "boring," that's not a bad thing. Regularly doling out cash to investors is often indicative of a business that's time-tested and expected to remain profitable for many years to come.

You know what else is great about dividend stocks? They handily outperform their non-dividend-paying peers. A 2013 report from J.P. Morgan Asset Management compared the returns of companies that initiated and grew their payouts between 1972 and 2012 to publicly traded companies that didn't offer a dividend. The result? The dividend-paying stocks delivered an annualized return of 9.5% over four decades, while the non-dividend payers scraped their way to a meager 1.6% average annual return.

Dividend stocks are always in style, and they can be quite lucrative for patient investors. If you're looking for surefire opportunities to generate income and see your initial investment appreciate over time, the following five dividend stocks might be perfect for you right now.

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Bristol Myers Squibb: 3% yield

Pharmaceutical stocks are often a smart way to put income in your pocket and avoid the wild volatility that can occasionally crop up during recessions and economic contractions. After all, patients still need prescription drugs no matter how well or poorly the economy is performing. That's why big pharma Bristol Myers Squibb (NYSE:BMY) makes for such a surefire buy.

One of the bigger catalysts for Bristol Myers is the 2019 buyout of cancer and immunology drug developer Celgene. The highlight of this deal was bringing multiple myeloma blockbuster Revlimid into the fold. Last year, Revlimid generated $12.1 billion in sales and has grown sales annually by a double-digit percentage for more than a decade. It's benefited from label expansion, longer duration of use, improved cancer screening diagnostics, and exceptional pricing power. Best of all, it's protected from a flood of generic competition for almost five more years, which will give Bristol Myers a long runway to rake in cash flow. 

On the other hand, Bristol Myers has a number of organically grown blockbusters that can continue to deliver. Eliquis has grown into the world's leading oral anticoagulant, while cancer immunotherapy Opdivo generated $7 billion in sales in 2020. Opdivo is particularly interesting given the dozens of ongoing clinical trials that could lead to label expansion opportunities.

At roughly eight times forward earnings, you'd struggle to find a better deal among the big pharma stocks.

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AT&T: 6.6% yield

Telecom giant AT&T (NYSE:T) is the perfect example of a boring dividend stock. But that's not a slight -- it's a compliment. It can be counted on for predictable cash flow and a sustainable 6.6% yield, and it stands to benefit from two key catalysts going forward.

To begin with, AT&T should get a multiyear jolt from the rollout of 5G infrastructure. It's been about a decade since wireless download speeds have been improved. AT&T's hefty investment in 5G should result in consumers and businesses flocking to upgrade their devices. Since data represents the high-margin fuel that makes the company's wireless segment tick, these upgrades should drive increased profitability through the midpoint of the decade.

Furthermore, AT&T is expected to make the most of its push into streaming. Though the late May 2020 launch of HBO Max was relatively subdued, it's been picking up new subscribers at a healthy pace in recent months. The company ended March with another 2.7 million net domestic HBO Max and HBO subscribers, which should help to more than offset any cord-cutting associated with DirecTV. 

Slow but steady can win the race for investors.

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Innovative Industrial Properties: 3% yield

Then again, not all income stocks are boring. Take real estate investment trust (REIT) Innovative Industrial Properties (NYSE:IIPR) as a good example. IIP, as the company is also known, pays a 3% yield, is growing by a double-digit annual rate, and ... (drum roll) ... is a marijuana stock!

Innovative Industrial Properties acquires cannabis cultivating and processing facilities and seeks to lease them for long periods. This allows IIP to generate highly predictable cash flow from rental income while also passing along very modest annual rent increases and collecting a property management fee. As of April 19, IIP owned 69 properties in 18 states that covered 6.2 million rentable square feet -- all of which is leased for a weighted-average remaining term of 16.7 years. 

The company's bread-and-butter profit driver has been its sale-leaseback program. Since cannabis is illicit at the federal level, not all banks are willing to offer basic banking services to pot companies. This can leave multistate operators short on cash. IIP fills this role by purchasing facilities for cash and immediately leasing them back to the seller. It's a win-win, with operators buoying their balance sheets and IIP landing long-term tenants.

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Annaly Capital Management: 9.9% yield

Another REIT that offers seemingly surefire returns for patient income seekers is Annaly Capital Management (NYSE:NLY). At a yield of 9.9%, it can nearly double your money, with reinvestment, in seven years.

Annaly is a mortgage REIT, which is a fancy way of saying that it borrows money at lower short-term rates and buys assets (e.g., mortgage-backed securities) with higher long-term yields. The goal here being to maximize the yield received and minimize borrowing costs, thus widening net interest margin.

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, the yield curve was flattening, which is traditionally bad news for mortgage REITs like Annaly. However, economic recoveries push long-term yields higher while weighing on short-term yields. This steepening of the yield curve usually expands net interest margin for Annaly, allowing the company to safely use leverage to its advantage.

As a final note on Annaly, it almost exclusively purchases agency securities -- i.e., assets backed by the federal government in the event of a default. This protection allows the company to safely deploy leverage and pump up its profits.

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NextEra Energy: 2% yield

Last but not least, utilities can offer surefire opportunities for long-term income seekers. In particular, electric utility stock NextEra Energy (NYSE:NEE) and its 2% yield can power portfolios higher.

Cheesy pun aside, most electric utilities are slow-growers with little differentiation. NextEra isn't like most utilities. It's leading the nation in capacity generated from solar and wind power. Between 2020 and 2022, it's aiming to spend $50 billion to $55 billion on infrastructure, most of which will be for green energy projects. With the Biden administration pushing for carbon-reducing initiatives, NextEra will be well ahead of any legislation to come out of Washington.

More importantly, going green is helping the company's bottom line. Wind, solar, and other renewable sources of energy have significantly reduced NextEra's electric generation costs. In turn, this has pushed its annual earnings growth rate to the high single digits for more than a decade.

It's also worth pointing out that NextEra's traditional utility operations -- those not powered by renewables -- are regulated by state public utility commissions. Though it's not able to pass along rate hikes at will, it's also not exposed to potentially volatile wholesale pricing. In other words, investors can expect highly predictable cash flow.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.