I don't know about you, but I spent the better part of 2008 and even the first few months of 2009 fighting the urge to sell. As my portfolio became smaller and redder by the day, it seemed as if there was no end in sight. Watching the losses stack up became unbearable.

Which got me thinking ...

What would Buffett do?

As hard as I tried, I couldn't convince myself that he would sell and cut his losses. Every indication says he would patiently wait things out and probably add to his top positions, or open new ones. And that's exactly what he has been doing, as his annual report confirmed.

His ability to invest without falling prey to the fear of uncertainty has made him the greatest investor of all time.

But that's Buffett, not me. And even though I know what I ought to do and even though the markets seem to have stabilized somewhat, I'm still plagued by anxiety -- and I'm nowhere near as patient as he is. What can investors like me do when panic sets in?

Get paid to wait!
Those like me who are made impatient by this bear market should consider investing in dividend-paying stocks. They offer the closest thing today's market has to a guaranteed gain.

As I pointed out at the beginning of last year, as stock prices drop, dividend yields rise -- which means that some of the world's top companies now also boast mouthwatering yields. And those yields can provide a nice return on your investment, even when the market itself is flatlining.

But it's important not to focus on a dividend yield alone, as recent developments with the following stocks make clear:


Problem With Dividend

United States Steel (NYSE:X)

Recently announced that it will cut its dividend and raise capital in order to pay off an old loan.

Macerich (NYSE:MAC)

One of a slew of REITs facing a difficult real estate environment, it recently announced a 25% cut in its quarterly dividend.  

Legg Mason (NYSE:LM)

After its fifth straight quarterly loss, this leading asset manager cut its dividend by 88%.

Fortune Brands (NYSE:FO)

Despite expecting to beat analysts' first-quarter expectations, this consumer goods company recently cut its dividend by 57%.

As the above list makes clear, even seemingly solid companies that pay dividends can be too good to be true -- so be sure to do your research.

Due dividend diligence
It's important to buy dividend-paying companies that have strong fundamentals and the ability to increase their dividends over time. Although dividend stocks will certainly help get you through this bear market, they should also have the qualities necessary to become core holdings of your portfolio.

James Early, advisor of Motley Fool Income Investor, likes to find dividend-paying companies that have:

  • A dividend fully funded though free cash flow.
  • Improving operations.
  • A manageable debt load (less than 60% of capital).

The following companies fit those criteria, and all of them are large caps with yields of 5% or greater and dividend payments that have increased over the past year:


Market Cap

Dividend Yield

Dividend Growth


$156 billion



Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE:BMY)

$39 billion



Mechel Open Joint Stock Company (NYSE:MTL)

$3 billion



Data from Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's, as of May 6, 2009.

If you'd like to see what dividend-paying companies we're recommending now, take a 30-day free trial of Income Investor. With the current market conditions, the team has quite a list of companies to choose from, and many of their top picks have yields so attractive that no one ever thought it’d be possible to buy companies with such high dividends. You can click here to get started. There's no obligation to subscribe.

This article was first published July 22, 2008. It has been updated.

Adam J. Wiederman owns shares of Legg Mason, but of no other company mentioned above. The Motley Fool also owns shares of Legg Mason, which is an Inside Value recommendation. Fortune Brands is a Stock Advisor recommendation. The Fool has a strict disclosure policy.