Many investors rely on dividend income in order to meet their cash flow needs from their investment portfolios. All 30 components of the Dow Jones Industrials (DJINDICES:^DJI) pay dividends, but there's a wide disparity across how much those stocks pay. With the five lowest-yielding Dow stocks paying less than 1.25% in dividends, it's tempting to conclude that some companies are simply too tightfisted with their cash. Yet if you look beyond dividends, you'll find that several of these Dow stalwarts aren't as stingy as you might think. Let's take a closer look at these five stocks and how they make up for their low dividend yields.
Across the 30 Dow stocks, the average dividend yield is about 2.5%, so paying half that amount or less is a slap in the face for the typical income investor. Yet that's exactly what you'll get from a wide range of companies. Financial stalwarts Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS) and Visa (NYSE:V) are in this anti-elite group, along with consumer giants Nike (NYSE:NKE) and Walt Disney (NYSE:DIS). Health insurance company UnitedHealth Group (NYSE:UNH) rounds out the bottom five in dividend yield.
What dividend yields ignore, though, is the capital companies return to shareholders through stock buybacks. In the past, dividends took even more of a backseat to share repurchases, as dividends are taxable to all shareholders while buybacks only impose taxes on those who sell their shares. Yet the the tax-law update more than a decade ago that implemented more favorable rates on dividends helped spur a new phase of growth in payouts, sending average yields higher.
Among these bottom five Dow stocks, Goldman Sachs particularly stands out as offsetting its dividend deficiencies through stock buybacks. Add the repurchase yield to the payout yield, and Goldman returns almost 7% to shareholders. Nike and UnitedHealth don't fare quite as well, but with more than 3 percentage points of buyback yield, their yield for shareholders each rises above 4%. Disney comes nearly as high, with a 2.7% buyback yield bringing the total near 4%.
Even buybacks, though, aren't enough to bring every company up to respectable levels. Visa is the only Dow stock with a dividend yield below 1%, and its skimpy buyback yield still leaves that under 3%.
For a full picture of whether a company is generating a sufficient return for shareholders, it pays to look past dividends and consider other ways it spends its hard-earned money. With investors benefiting from share repurchases, looking at the combined yield of buybacks and dividends is a better gauge on the financial decisions a company makes.
Dan Caplinger owns shares of Walt Disney. The Motley Fool recommends Nike, UnitedHealth Group, Visa, and Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of Nike, Visa, and Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.