It's been said before, but dividends truly are the cornerstone of most successful portfolios. Payouts of 2% here and 3% there may not seem like much, but over time they can add up -- or, better yet, be reinvested in more stock to yield phenomenal compounding gains.
On top of putting money in your pocket, dividends can also provide signals to investors regarding a company's health. A company that can pay and even increase its dividend over a long period of time demonstrates that its business model is profitable and able to survive the test of time. Not to mention that dividends are a nice perk when the stock market is slumping or extremely volatile, as these payments help act as a downside hedge on your investment.
Among the best dividend-payers, there is a select class of stocks known as Dividend Aristocrats. The few dozen companies that belong to this exclusive group have raised their dividends for a minimum of 25 straight years. These companies are a great representation of businesses willing to go the extra mile for their shareholders.
Among Dividend Aristocrats, fewer than two dozen companies have raised their dividends for 50 or more years, making that an impressive milestone for a company to hit. With this in mind, let's take a look at three companies that are closing in on their 50th consecutive year of dividend increases.
1. Hormel Foods (NYSE:HRL)
Is it any surprise that we begin this list with a food producer like Hormel? Food companies provide us with basic-need goods. Regardless of whether the economy is good or bad, people need to eat. Hormel's only real challenge is to ensure it offers a nice balance of quality and value, as its brand-name products come with a premium compared to most store-brand products.
In Hormel's latest quarterly report, the company delivered record sales of $2.5 billion -- an increase of 9% from the year-ago period -- and record adjusted profits of $0.63 per share. Working in Hormel's favor was a 7% volume surge from its Jennie-O Turkey operations, a 15% volume spike in specialty foods, and a modest 1% uptick in refrigerated foods volume. So long as Hormel can build upon its core brands like Skippy and Jennie-O Turkey, there's really not much to worry about from an investment perspective.
During its latest report Hormel also announced its 49th consecutive annual dividend increase. Its new payout of $1 per year works out to a current yield of 2% and a payout ratio of just 36% based on Wall Street's 2015 EPS estimates. That's also a 25% increase from Hormel's annual payout the previous year. I believe Hormel is on track to hit the magic 50-year mark in late November of 2015.
2. Stanley Black & Decker (NYSE:SWK)
What's another great way to build a phenomenal dividend streak? Offer up brand-name products that both residential consumers and professionals want to own.
Stanley Black & Decker offers a wide variety of power and hand tools, as well as mechanical solutions and monitoring systems for consumers and businesses. It relies on its reputation and marketing to drive growth, although the actual synergy Stanley Works achieved with Black & Decker shortly after the recession is what has fueled incredible cost savings and widening margins in recent years.
Stanley Black & Decker has a pretty simple approach that doesn't differ much from those of its peers: seek emerging-market growth and also grow organically in core developed markets. In the third quarter Stanley Black & Decker delivered 5% total sales growth, which was almost entirely attributed to volume growth, rather than price growth. This isn't to say the company doesn't have excellent pricing power in an environment where U.S. GDP advanced by 5% in the third quarter, but it's more impressive to note that organic growth came in at 6% during the quarter, mostly due to rising product sales.
This past summer Stanley Black & Decker boosted its payout by 4% to $0.52 per quarter, marking the 47th consecutive year it has raised its dividend. Currently, shareholders are privy to a 2.2% dividend yield and a payout ratio of just 34% based on Wall Street's 2015 EPS forecast. I'd say there's a good chance Stanley Black & Decker hits year 50 in the summer of 2017, barring a major global recession.
3. Target (NYSE:TGT)
Lastly, sometimes simply being bigger than most of your rivals is the easiest way to amass an impressive dividend growth streak.
Target likely needs no introduction, as it's one of the largest retailers in the United States. From groceries to retail and electronics, Target is succeeding because it aims to be a one-stop shop for many of its consumers. Although we don't have fourth-quarter data from Target yet, I'd surmise that its free shipping went a long way to boosting its direct-to-consumer sales this holiday season.
Because of its size, Target is able to undercut a lot of its competition on price and convenience. This is why Target was able to grow comparable-store sales in Q3 by 1.2% despite being less than a year removed at the time from one of the most high-profile credit card breaches in history. Target's price competitiveness and its REDcard are great lures to keep customers loyal.
After Target raised its dividend for the 43rd straight year in June, I find it hard to believe Target won't hit its 50th year of increases by 2021. In the meantime, investors can sit back and collect a 2.7% dividend yield.