Investors should be careful not to pay too much attention to a stock's current yield. That's because if you invest in a dividend growth stock (and you'll want to, if for no other reason than to offset inflation over the years), your dividend payments will rise as you hang on to the stock. For example, a $1,000 dividend can grow to $2,000 within eight years if a company grows its payouts by 10% or more each year.
Health insurance company UnitedHealth only pays out 34% of its earnings to shareholders. Its modest payout ratio gives the company plenty of room to make aggressive dividend hikes in the future. And in the past five years, its dividend payments have more than doubled from $0.625 to $1.45.
The company can afford to do that because from 2016 to 2020, its diluted per-share profit also grew at a great pace, from $7.25 to $16.03. And UnitedHealth is still working on ways to grow its business; earlier this year, it announced it would be acquiring tech and analytics company Change Healthcare for $13 billion. Last year, it acquired full-service pharmacy Divvydose for over $300 million; the company is a rival to Amazon's PillPack.
UnitedHealth's dividend yield of 1.4% today is right in line with the S&P 500 average. But for investors willing to buy and hold the stock for years, they could be earning a lot more from the dividend in the future. UnitedHealth is an industry leader, and the healthcare stock could be an excellent pillar for your portfolio for not just years, but decades.
Apple is known for being a top tech stock, but investors shouldn't overlook the dividend. While investors may not take a yield of 0.6% seriously, that low percentage has a lot to do with just how well the stock price has been doing in recent years. Since 2018, shares of Apple have risen 245%, well above both the S&P 500's returns (65%) and UnitedHealth's (88%).
A rising share price can bring down the yield if it grows at a faster rate than the dividend, which Apple's stock has. The company's current quarterly dividend of $0.22 is 54% higher than the $0.1425 split-adjusted dividend it was paying five years ago.
The company reported its most recent results last month, and for the period ending June 26, its net sales of $81 million grew 36% year over year. And its diluted earnings per share of $1.30 was double the $0.65 it posted in the same period of 2020. If Apple were to maintain this level of profitability, its payout ratio would be a minuscule 17%.
Although the company is growing its streaming business and spends money on share buybacks, there is still ample room for Apple to boost its dividend. Its dividend payments over the past nine months totaled just under $11 million. Even when reducing the $84 million in cash Apple generated from its operations by its investing-related expenditures of $15 million, the company's dividend payments still account for less than one-sixth of the cash left over.
Share buybacks of $66 million were where the bulk of Apple's money went after investments and will likely remain a priority moving forward. But if the business can continue growing its bottom line, and there's little reason to doubt that it will as it expands and invests in its streaming business, more hikes are likely in the cards for investors.
Credit card company Visa is another dividend growth stock with a modest yield. At 0.5%, it has the lowest yield on the list, but it has been aggressively increasing its payouts in recent years. At $0.32, the current quarterly payments are more than double the $0.14 that Visa was paying its shareholders five years ago. And with a great bottom line and payout ratio of only 11%, there's little doubt that more dividend increases are on the way.
The company's profit margin over the trailing 12 months has been 48% of its revenue, which isn't unusual for Visa as its high-margin business leaves lots of room for incremental revenue to flow through to the bottom line. With the global economy looking to rebound from the pandemic, the future could look even stronger for Visa as pent-up demand may lead to a surge in spending.
And things are already looking up. Through the first two quarters of 2021, real GDP has been growing at more than 6%. By comparison, in the first quarter of 2019 the growth rate was just 3.1%, and that was above the 2.2% growth the economy generated in the previous period.
Investing in Visa is a great way to bet on the health of the economy, and it also makes for a solid long-term investment. Although the dividend looks below average today, it would be shocking not to see more dividend increases in the near future.