To say that the stock market has been a bit volatile over the past month might be a bit of an understatement. As investors, we haven't witnessed a true correction in stocks in nearly four years. Although corrections give long-term investors the opportunity to pick up high-quality companies at a discount, it also has a tendency to shake nerves as stock values deflate.
One of the smartest moves you can make before, during, and after a market correction is to load your portfolio with high-quality dividend-paying companies. Not only have companies that pay a dividend historically outperformed publicly listed companies that don't pay a dividend, but they offer other advantages as well.
To begin with, the willingness of a company to pay a regular dividend signifies the health of its business model and portends that it likely has a positive long-term growth outlook. In short, why would a company share its profits with investors, or increase its dividend over time, if it didn't foresee growth on the horizon?
Secondly, a dividend payment can help offset (at least nominally) the downward momentum in your portfolio. Dividend payments alone aren't going to stop you from recognizing potential paper losses during a correction, but over time they can really soften the effect of any correction.
Finally, dividends afford investors the opportunity to reinvest their payment into more shares of stock, thus compounding your potential for gains (and dividends) over time.
This trillion-dollar portfolio is yielding more than 4%
As a whole, the S&P 500 is yielding close to 2%. Without reinvestment, investors are looking at doubling their money every 35 years based solely on its current yield. However, pack your portfolio with a select group of mega-cap, high-quality stocks out of the S&P 500 and you'll be left with a trillion-dollar portfolio of companies that has an average dividend yield of 4.2% -- double the yield of the S&P 500!
Let's have a brief look at four diverse mega caps (which combine for a market valuation of $1 trillion) that can help you achieve a 4.2% yield.
One thing you have to keep in mind with the yield of a dividend is that it's a reflection of a company's stipend versus its stock price. Although oil and gas giant ExxonMobil has fared extremely well compared to many of its peers, the primary reason its yield has lifted to 4% is the decline in its stock price tied to weakness in oil prices. It's not out of the question that persistently lower oil prices in the coming years could negatively affect its profitability and weigh on its share price even more.
However, looking at the big picture ExxonMobil is still sitting pretty. As my Foolish colleague, and ExxonMobil shareholder, Tyler Crowe pointed out in July, ExxonMobil is tops among integrated oil and gas giants when it comes to return on equity over the trailing-12-month period, and it still views the U.S. shale outlook as positive. When you're buying ExxonMobil, you're making a bet that the future demand of global energy is going to increase, which in my opinion is a likely scenario.
While hiccups could be present until the oil markets find stability, ExxonMobil's ability to pull levers to cut its costs and its diverse asset base make it an attractively priced company with an above-average yield.
Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ)
Turning to the healthcare sector, Johnson & Johnson sports a valuation of roughly a quarter-trillion dollars and a 3.2% dividend yield that's increased in each of the past 53 years.
Johnson & Johnson offers a number of advantages that could make it an attractive investment. For starters, its products are generally inelastic. It sells healthcare products, medical devices, and pharmaceuticals that will continue to sell regardless of whether the U.S. economy is booming or in a recession. Consumers can't decide when they want to be sick, which gives drug developers and health consumer product providers like J&J the upper hand on pricing.
More importantly, Johnson & Johnson's drug development subsidiary, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, is among the most impressive and successful in the world. Between 2009 and 2014, J&J brought 14 novel drugs to market, with half of those drugs achieving blockbuster status (i.e., more than $1 billion in annual sales). Looking ahead, J&J believes it can file for approval of 10 new blockbuster drugs before the end of the decade.
Long story short, Johnson & Johnson and its AAA-rated credit seem like a good bet for long-term success.
General Electric (NYSE:GE)
Conglomerate General Electric may have toyed with investors' emotions during the Great Recession, but its financial arm woes are now largely in the rearview mirror, with the company planning a complete exit. Instead, GE's reliance on the energy, transportation, and health industries could be a boon that spurs growth for decades to come.
In recent years, General Electric has made a push to return to its roots, which is its industrial heritage. The focus is on maintaining 70% of operating revenue from the industrial sector, which will place a focus on power and water, as well as aviation -- both saw a surge of 29% and 37%, respectively, in the second quarter. Furthermore, GE's backlog improved to $272 billion in Q2 2015, an 8% increase from the year-ago period.
General Electric stands poised to benefit from a push to cleaner energy-generation devices (e.g., turbines), more fuel-efficient locomotives, and even from the Affordable Care Act, which could cause demand for its medical equipment to rise. With mid- to high-single-digit organic growth expected in the near term, General Electric's 3.7% dividend yield is certainly looking appealing.
Lastly, content giant AT&T, one of the highest-yielding dividend stocks in the S&P 500, is what can help push your trillion-dollar portfolio over the 4% yield hump with its current 5.8% dividend yield.
Put plainly, AT&T's business is fairly boring and predictable, but that's great news if you're an income-seeking investor. AT&T has the most loyal wireless customer base according to a survey conducted by Brand Keys, and it's backed up by the company's very low wireless postpaid churn rate of just 1.01% in the second quarter.
What makes AT&T such a force in the content space is that there are so few options available for consumers to choose from in terms of cable, Internet, and voice providers. With the knowledge that most consumers have just one to three options, AT&T doesn't have to play hardball with its pricing, lending it the opportunity to pad its margins as needed.
More importantly, the acquisition of DIRECTV is going to allow AT&T to offer a uniquely bundled content package that simplifies things for its consumers and makes receiving content potentially more convenient.
Considering its historically low volatility and steady profitability, AT&T is a company for risk-averse, income-seeking investors to seriously consider.
Sean Williams has no material interest in any companies mentioned in this article. You can follow him on CAPS under the screen name TMFUltraLong, track every pick he makes under the screen name TrackUltraLong, and check him out on Twitter, where he goes by the handle @TMFUltraLong.
The Motley Fool owns shares of ExxonMobil and General Electric. It also recommends Johnson & Johnson. 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.