Dividend payers deserve a berth in any long-term stock portfolio. But seemingly attractive dividend yields are not always as fetching as they may appear. Let's see which companies in the aircraft and parts industry offer the most promising dividends.

Yields and growth rates and payout ratios, oh my!
Before we get to those companies, though, you should understand just why you'd want to own dividend payers. These stocks can contribute a huge chunk of growth to your portfolio in good times, and bolster it during market downturns.

As my colleague Matt Koppenheffer has noted: "Between 2000 and 2009, the average dividend-adjusted return on stocks with market caps above $5 billion and a trailing yield of 2.5% or better was a whopping 114%. Compare that to a 19% drop for the S&P 500."

When hunting for promising dividend payers, unsophisticated investors will often just look for the highest yields they can find. While these stocks will indeed pay out the most, the yield figures apply only for the current year. Extremely steep dividend yields can be precarious, and even solid ones are vulnerable to dividend cuts.

When evaluating a company's attractiveness in terms of its dividend, it's important to examine at least three factors:

  1. The current yield
  2. The dividend growth
  3. The payout ratio

If a company has a middling dividend yield, but a history of increasing its payment substantially from year to year, it deserves extra consideration. A $3 dividend can become $7.80 in 10 years, if it grows at 10% annually. (It will top $20 after 20 years.) Thus, a 3% yield today may be more attractive than a 4% one, if the 3% company is rapidly increasing that dividend.

Next, consider the company's payout ratio, which reflects what percentage of income the company is spending on its dividend. In general, the lower the number, the better. A low payout ratio means there's plenty of room for generous dividend increases. It also means that much of the company's income remains in its hands, giving it a lot of flexibility. That money can fund the business's expansion, pay off debt, buy back shares, or even buy other companies. A steep payout ratio reflects little flexibility for the company, less room for dividend growth, and a stronger chance that if the company falls on hard times, it will have to reduce its dividend.

Peering into aircraft
Below, I've compiled some of the major dividend-paying players in the aircraft and parts arena (and a few smaller outfits), ranked according to their dividend yields:

Company

Recent Yield

5-Year Avg. Annual Div. Growth Rate

Payout Ratio

Boeing (NYSE: BA) 2.3% 11.7% 38%
Elbit Systems (Nasdaq: ESLT) 2.3% 27.0% 28%
United Technologies (NYSE: UTX) 2.0% 13.8% 36%
Rockwell Collins (NYSE: COL) 1.4% 15.2% 26%
Ducommun   1.3% New dividend 25%
Embraer (NYSE: ERJ) 0.5% (19.8%) 33%
Textron (NYSE: TXT) 0.3% (35.6%) 29%
Triumph Group 0.2% 0%* 3%
HEICO (NYSE: HEI) 0.2% 20.1% 7%

Source: Motley Fool CAPS. *Four-year growth rate.

If you focus on dividend yield alone, you might end up with Boeing, but it's not necessarily your best bet. Its dividend growth rate is solid, but you can do better.

Instead, let's focus on the dividend growth rate first, where Elbit Systems and HEICO lead the way. It would be reasonable to worry about their ability to maintain their steep rates for long, but since their payout ratios are low, that's not an immediate concern. HEICO's yield is so low, though, that it will take a while to grow to attractive levels.

Just right
As I see it, within this industry, Elbit Systems and, to a lesser extent, United Technologies give you the best of everything for a dividend stock. They sport yields north of 2%, healthy dividend growth rates, and reasonable payout ratios. They offer some solid income now and a good chance of strong dividend growth in the future. Of course, as with all stocks, you'll want to look into more than just a company's dividend situation before making a purchase decision. Still, these stocks' compelling dividends make them great places to start your search, particularly if you're excited by the prospects for this industry.

Do your portfolio a favor. Don't ignore the growth you can gain from powerful dividend payers.

To get more ideas for great dividend-paying stocks, read about "13 High-Yielding Stocks to Buy Today."

We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.

Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian does not own shares of any companies mentioned in this article. Embraer is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation. The Fool owns shares of Textron. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.