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Dividends and the Dow
Today, I want to look at the five Dow stocks that have the lowest dividend yields. For each, I'll dig deeper to figure out whether it should give up its spot in the Dow to a company with a better record of treating their shareholders right.
Bank of America
The nation's second-largest bank by deposits has had a rough several years. The mortgage crisis put a big crimp in its business, especially after it took on Countrywide in what some have called the worst deal in corporate American history.
Despite posting strong profits in its most recent quarter, B of A has had to sell assets and contemplate major branch closures to boost its capital position. Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve has prevented the bank from raising its dividend, despite allowing several peers to do so.
Most banks have had trouble with their dividends. But Wells Fargo has bounced back much more convincingly than B of A, and its 1.6% yield is more than double that of its rival. Even though both banks carry the Warren Buffett seal of approval, Buffett's willingness to own regular shares rather than high-yielding B of A preferred stock and warrants gives Wells Fargo the edge.
Aluminum giant Alcoa slashed its dividend by more than 80% in the aftermath of the financial crisis three years ago and hasn't increased it since. The company has made production cuts to address cost concerns, and despite posting a bright forecast for global demand in its fourth-quarter earnings report, Alcoa is vulnerable to changing trends.
That said, the company offers unique exposure to a niche of American industry, one that would be tough to replicate. Smaller player Kaiser Aluminum pays a 2% dividend, but it's hard to envision a company with a market cap of less than $1 billion in the Dow. Leaving Alcoa in the Dow may be the best choice even from a dividend perspective.
At first glance, Cisco looks like a stingy dividend payer. But in the tech world, dividends are often hard to come by, and Cisco deserves credit for having started a dividend early last year.
With the company making strides toward a turnaround, I'd expect that dividend to rise over time. And with that expectation, Cisco deserves its place as the top networking stock in an industry that's only poised to grow further in the years to come.
American Express, 1.4% dividend yield
AmEx was once a card you couldn't leave home without, but recently, competitors have eaten its lunch. AmEx almost entirely missed the debit-card revolution that vaulted Visa and MasterCard into the stratosphere of the card world.
Interestingly, though, MasterCard and Visa have even worse dividend yields than AmEx. Moreover, with AmEx's other businesses, which include travel, AmEx gives the Dow some exposure that its rivals wouldn't. Despite a fairly low yield, AmEx probably deserves its spot in the Dow.
With General Electric having sold off its majority stake in NBC Universal to Comcast, Disney remains the top media player in the Dow, with its lucrative ABC and ESPN networks joining its landmark movie and theme-park businesses. It has a low yield now, but the company has gotten the message to boost it, and so far, it has responded quickly.
Just last month, the company raised its dividend 50%. Yet even at its higher level, the payout still represents only a quarter of Disney's earnings, leaving the entertainment giant plenty of room to raise its payout in the future. Disney should stay in the Dow, and dividend investors can expect happier returns in the future.
Stick with it
The Dow is remarkable in that every stock in the average pays at least some dividend. While not all of these stocks make the highest payouts, most of them deserve a chance to redeem themselves -- and eventually, even B of A may finally get its dividend higher.
Dividends are a great sign of a healthy company. If you want to own stocks that don't skimp on their dividends, check out the Fool's new free report that reveals 11 rock-solid dividend stocks for your portfolio. Don't wait, though -- it's available for only a limited time, so read it today.
Fool contributor Dan Caplinger wants you to get the money you deserve. You can follow him on Twitter. He doesn't own shares of the companies mentioned in this article. The Motley Fool owns shares of Cisco, Wells Fargo, MasterCard, and Bank of America and has created a bull call spread position on Cisco and a covered strange position on Wells Fargo. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Cisco, Visa, and Disney, as well as writing a covered strangle position in American Express. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Fool's disclosure policy never stops paying dividends.