There's nothing wrong with an investor being defensive-minded, especially in the current economic environment filled with worries about inflation, recession, and more. It's a good time to seek out steady companies that can continue to do well during market pullbacks. 

General Mills (GIS -0.27%), Lowe's (LOW -0.30%), and CVS Health (CVS -0.95%) are three good examples. All have dividends with yields above 2%, and have outpaced the S&P 500 over the past three years. Let's take a closer look at each one.

1. General Mills offers solid returns

General Mills is an iconic name on grocery store shelves. The food company makes everything from Cheerios to Green Giant vegetables to Blue Buffalo dog food. While its brands may be familiar, you may not know how strong the company's business is. It just finished fiscal 2022, its fifth consecutive year of improved revenue and third consecutive year of improved annual earnings per share (EPS).

In the fourth quarter, General Mills reported $4.9 billion in revenue, up 8% year over year, with an EPS of $1.35, up 98% over the same period last year. Despite the headwinds of inflation, the company was able to pass costs along and improve its operating profit margin by 870 basis points to 20.8%.

Shareholders seem pleased. The shares are up more than 15% this year in what has been a down period for the stock market. If you include the dividend, the consumer staples stock is up more than 18%. In fact, General Mills just raised the dividend by 6% to $0.54 per quarter, giving it an annual yield of 2.8%. 

The venerable company has paid a dividend without interruption for 123 years and has increased it by 63% over the past 10 years. Considering the prudent dividend payout ratio of 52%, there's room for it grow further.

Despite the stock's rise this year, it's hard to say General Mills is overpriced as it trades for roughly 17 times earnings. During down economic times, people eat less in restaurants and more at home, and that helps General Mills' business.

CVS Total Return Price Chart.

CVS Total Return Price data by YCharts.

2. Lowe's has a steady foundation

Home improvement retailer Lowe's did well during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic as consumers gave it plenty of business. But the shares have fallen more than 19% this year as the economy reopened and inflation has proven a challenge.

Still, the company continues to thrive and, like competitor Home Depot, it has a big moat advantage because its size and range of products give it buying power over smaller hardware companies.

In the second quarter, Lowe's reported revenue of $27.5 billion, down slightly year over year, but its EPS of $4.67 was still 9% better than the same period last year when the pandemic was still on everyone's minds, and the housing market was booming.

Over the past 10 years, Lowe's has raised its annual revenue by 612% and its EPS by 91% as it has continued to grow its market share. The company has done a good job of making inroads into Home Depot's business with pro contractors, with that segment growing by 13% year over year in the last quarter.

Lowe's just raised its dividend by 31% to $1.05 per share, giving it a yield of 2%. It is a Dividend King that has raised its dividend for 59 consecutive years. The chances of that dividend streak continuing look strong as it has kept a low payout ratio of 25%.

The fall in the stock price has made it a good buy, trading now with a price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio of 16.4.

3. CVS is capable of more growth

CVS Health's shares have been flat this year, down a little less than 2%. In good times or bad, though, CVS is a steady earner with a dependable dividend, which makes it a great stock to buy in a market pullback. The pharmacy company's core business is stable because prescription drugs and other healthcare services aren't things people generally can cut back on. 

In the second quarter, CVS reported revenue of $80.6 billion, up 11% year over year, with EPS of $2.23, up 6% over the same period last year. The revenue growth was seen across segments, and its total medical membership stood at 24.4 million, up 1% from the prior-year period. Healthcare Benefits and Pharmacy Services both saw double-digit growth in revenue, with Retail/Long-Term Care having the slowest revenue growth at 6%.

CVS has grown annual revenue by 137% over the past 10 years and annual EPS by 97%. The company's in-store clinics have been a driver of traffic and revenue, and now the company plans to get into primary care. It's the type of move that might cut into the company's profit margins but will allow it to continue to grow revenue in the long run.

The key for CVS is getting people into its stores, whether by visiting a clinic or other ways. The company said that 15% of new customers to CVS Health through COVID-19 testing services chose to fill new prescriptions or get their other vaccinations at CVS Health.

The company increased its quarterly dividend late last year by 10% to $0.55 per share, its first increase since boosting its dividend from $0.42 to $0.50 in 2017. The company has maintained a conservative cash dividend payout ratio of 17.5%, which means there's plenty of room for growth. The dividend has a current yield of around 2.18%, and the stock's P/E ratio is a low 16.5 -- an attractive combination for investors.