Aside from the COVID-19-induced bear market in March 2020, the past few years have been difficult for income investors. The S&P 500's average yield has been less than 2% in 44 of the past 48 months, which can make it more challenging to find companies whose payouts are both attractive and sustainable.
But even in a market consistently reaching record highs, there do exist sanely priced stocks offering safe dividend yields that are double to nearly quadruple the S&P 500's current 1.3%.
A diversified titan of healthcare
At $435 billion (by market capitalization), healthcare titan Johnson & Johnson is a favorite of many dividend investors for several reasons.
First, its business is well-balanced. The pharmaceutical segment is led by immunology drugs such as Stelara and Tremfya, and cancer drugs such as Darzalex and Imbruvica (which is co-owned by Johnson & Johnson and AbbVie). These blockbuster drugs are central to Johnson & Johnson's pharmaceutical segment, which made up 54.3% of the company's total first-half sales of $45.63 billion.
Another third of Johnson & Johnson's business is made up of the medical devices segment (29.7% of first-half revenue), including that treat cardiovascular conditions, orthopedic issues (i.e., knee and hip replacements), and other conditions that require surgical intervention. The remaining portion (15.9% of first-half sales) consists of its well-known consumer and household brands, such as Neutrogena, Zyrtec, and Band-Aid.
Johnson & Johnson's diversified business mix helped the company's revenue to edge slightly higher in 2020 despite COVID headwinds in the medical devices segment due to delayed elective procedures. And now that this division has fully recovered to pre-COVID levels, the company's revenue growth is set to accelerate compared with last year. Management forecasts total revenue growth of 10.5% to 11.5%, from $82.6 billion in 2020 to $91.3 billion to $92.1 billion in 2021 -- and that's excluding the revenue the company's COVID vaccine is expected to produce this year.
Johnson & Johnson anticipates that its adjusted diluted earnings per share (EPS) will surge to $9.60 to $9.70 this year, up 19.6% to 20.8% year-over-year from the $8.04 it generated in 2020. Even compared with 2019's adjusted diluted EPS base of $8.68, this is still double-digit growth from pre-pandemic levels.
Based on the $4.19 in dividends per share that Johnson & Johnson will pay to shareholders this year, the company's dividend payout ratio will be in the low- to mid-40% range. And Johnson & Johnson has a flawless triple-A credit rating from S&P Global, which is what leads me to believe that its 2.6% dividend yield is the safest in all of healthcare.
These are all key reasons why Johnson & Johnson's 59-year dividend increase streak, which puts it in the rarified ranks of the Dividend Kings, is likely to continue in the years ahead. And conservative income investors can purchase shares of this healthcare stalwart for about 17 times this year's EPS estimates -- a discount given Johnson & Johnson's status as one of the steadiest businesses in the world. A $1,000 investment in Johnson & Johnson could purchase six shares based on the current price of about $165.
A tobacco giant on a mission
Another dividend stock worth considering today is $160 billion tobacco company Philip Morris International. Since being spun off from Altria Group in 2008, Philip Morris International has raised its dividend each year. And while Philip Morris remains synonymous with tobacco for some, the company is actually continuing to execute on its stated goal to "deliver a smoke-free future."
The company's smoke-free, heat-not-burn IQOS product has managed to garner tens of millions of users around the world since its initial launch in Japan and Italy in November 2014. This year alone, its IQOS user base has risen from 17.6 million to 20.1 million as of the second quarter; heated tobacco unit (HTU) volumes, including IQOS, surged 30.1% year over year, from 35.4 billion in the first half of last year to 46.1 billion this year. Meanwhile, cigarette volumes fell 2.2% year over year, from 308.4 billion cigarettes in the first half of last year to 301.7 billion this year.
The gangbusters growth in HTUs helped to propel Philip Morris International's total volume 1.1% higher in the first half of this year compared with the year-ago period. In turn, its net revenue advanced 10% year over year, from $13.80 billion in the first half of last year to $15.18 billion this year.
The increased sales of more profitable, smoke-free products -- from 22.9% of first-half sales last year to 28.5% in the first half of this year -- caused Philip Morris International's adjusted operating income margin to expand 450 basis points, from 40.5% last year to 45% this year.
The strong first-half performance led management to forecast $5.97 to $6.07 in adjusted diluted EPS for this year. This represents 15.5% to 17.4% year-over-year growth compared to the $5.17 in adjusted diluted EPS that was produced last year.
This strong outlook explains why the company recently increased its dividend by 4.2%, which is a solid growth rate considering Philip Morris International's current 4.9% yield. And investors can be confident that this yield is safe, based on a payout ratio in the high-70% to low-80% range for this year.
Finally, Philip Morris International appears to be offering safe, ultra-high yield at a reasonable price. This is supported by the fact that it is trading at approximately 17 times this year's EPS forecast, which is more than fair considering that analysts are predicting 12.6% annual earnings growth over the next five years. A $1,000 investment in Philip Morris International could buy nearly 10 shares of the stock at its current price of $103.