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 chemical 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:

  • The current yield
  • The dividend growth
  • 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 chemicals
Below, I've compiled some of the major dividend-paying players in the chemical industry (and a few smaller outfits), ranked according to their dividend yields:


Recent Yield

5-Year Avg. Annual Div. Growth Rate

Payout Ratio

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Olin (NYSE: OLN) 4.2% 0% 29% Add
Dow Chemical (NYSE: DOW) 3.6% (18.7%) 33% Add
DuPont (NYSE: DD) 3.4% 2.2% 45% Add
Huntsman (NYSE: HUN) 3.4% 0% 56% Add
Aceto 3.1% 3.6% 61% Add
Methanex (Nasdaq: MEOH) 2.9% 5.8% 39% Add
Air Products and Chemicals 2.7% 9.7% 40% Add
Eastman Chemical 2.6% 1.2% 23% Add
Innophos 2.2% 8% 22% Add
Ashland 1.3% (29.9%) 13% Add
FMC 0.7% 16.4% 18% Add
Celanese (NYSE: CE) 0.5% 4.2% 6% Add

Source: Motley Fool CAPS.

If you focus on dividend yield alone, you might end up with Olin. But it hasn't upped its dividend at all in many years.

Instead, let's focus on the dividend growth rate first, where FMC shines. Its yield is so low, though, that even fast growth won't make it rise very quickly. Its low payout ratio gives the company room for plenty of increases, though.

You may notice, too, that some notable players in the industry, such as Solazyme (Nasdaq: SZYM) and TPC Group, aren't on the list. That's because smaller, fast-growing companies often prefer to plow any excess cash into further growth rather than pay it out to shareholders.

Just right
As I see it, among the companies above, Olin is a good choice if you want to maximize current income. Otherwise, Air Products and Methanex offer a nice combination of dividend traits, sporting some solid income now and a good chance of strong dividend growth in the future. A closer look at Dow Chemical shows that although it did cut its dividend sharply in 2009, it has begun restoring it.

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.

Looking for some All-Star dividend-paying stocks? Look no further.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.