Here come the heavyweights.
Among a flood of earnings-season dividend raises last week -- nearly 40, by my count -- several big-name blue-chip stocks hiked their distributions. Nearly everyone is familiar with the three picks for this edition, so let's just dive right into them.
Arguably planet Earth's most admired tech company, the King of Cupertino will probably see its esteem rise with its latest dividend increase. The company has declared a $0.52 per-share payout, 11% higher than its predecessor.
Today's consumers want big cellphones, and they want iPhones. With its iPhone 6 line, Apple married these two desires and is now racking up sales. The firm sold over 61 million handsets in its Q2 -- a whopping 40% increase on a year-over-year basis.
If that weren't enough, the company's average selling price for an iPhone was over 60% higher during the quarter at $659, so it's moving more phones at significantly fatter prices.
No wonder Apple is doing so well financially. Total revenue increased by 27% year over year in Q2 to $58 billion, while the typically high-margin bottom line was 33% higher at almost $14 billion.
The momentum is very much in Apple's favor: The iPhone 6 models are still hot, and demand in certain regions (particularly China/Taiwan/Hong Kong) is sky-high and likely to stay there for a while. And as a highly profitable company, Apple throws off a great deal of cash. So fretting over whether Apple's new dividend can last or grow is like worrying that your iPhone won't be cool a year from now -- almost pointless.
Apple's upcoming payout will be dispensed on May 14 to shareholders of record as of May 11.
Sometimes it's hard to be an aristocrat -- a dividend aristocrat, that is. ExxonMobil is part of a small, elite group of stocks that have raised their dividends at least once annually for a minimum of 25 years in a row. ExxonMobil is keeping its aristocrat status alive with a 6% raise in its quarterly payout to $0.73 per share.
But the timing could certainly be better. Although the price of oil has recovered somewhat since plunging last year, it's still 43% below where it was at this point in 2014.
That dive is badly affecting the world's major producers. In its Q1, ExxonMobil suffered queasy year-over-year drops in both revenue (down 36% to $68 billion) and attributable net income (down 46% to $4.9 billion), thanks in no small part to that slump.
The company is doing a decent job of slicing expenses in the wake of the decline: Capital expenditures during the quarter were reduced by 9% year over year to $7.7 billion, and the company plans to cut more over the course of this year.
However, the dividend raises that characterize the aristocrats are by no means guaranteed. ExxonMobil habitually buys back shares of its own stock (all the better to smooth out its earnings per share). Although it's been reducing this activity, it still spends over $3 billion every quarter on it.
That, combined with nearly equal expenditures for dividend payments, has exceeded the company's free cash flow for several quarters now. So, aristocrat or not, I wouldn't count on this stock's payout being maintained or increased.
The new ExxonMobil dividend is to be handed out on June 10 to holders of record as of May 13.
Wells Fargo (NYSE:WFC)
Despite its rather tepid performance lately, the banking sector has seen a series of dividend raises. The latest and most prominent comes from big lender Wells Fargo, which has enhanced its quarterly payout by 7% to nearly $0.38 per share.
Wells Fargo, like any bank of meaningful size, cannot unilaterally decide its own dividend. Any capital allocation plan must be approved by the Federal Reserve as part of its annual Comprehensive Capital Analysis and Review program for the nation's lenders. The Fed had no objection to the company's proposed dividend hike -- nor should it have: Even though the company's Q1 numbers didn't blow the market away, it was still well in the black (to the tune of $5.8 billion). That's a 2% decline from the same quarter of 2014, but not too shabby given the current low-interest-rate environment, which makes it difficult for banks to make money from loans.
More encouragingly, the company's big mortgage operations reversed a set of several quarterly declines. Non-interest income from home lending posted a slight ($32 million) quarter-on-quarter rise to just over $1.5 billion.
Like every other lender's, Wells Fargo's results should pick up once the Fed gets around to its much-rumored interest rate hike, which many still expect to come within the next few months. Considering the challenging backdrop it's operating in now, the bank isn't doing too badly. So I think it'll continue to perform and bring in enough money to at least support the dividend.
That upgraded distribution will be paid on June 1 to shareholders of record as of May 8.