The power of dividend investing is pretty well-known these days. Higher-yielding stocks tend to offer higher returns over time than low- or no-yield stocks, according to research from Jeremy Siegel and others. In fact, the 20 best-performing survivor stocks from the original S&P 500 in 1957 are all dividend payers.

What's more, reinvesting dividends acts as a "bear-market protector and return accelerator," according to Siegel. The extra shares purchased and accumulated at higher dividend yields during down periods act as a protector in falling markets, and these extra shares rising in value turn into a "return accelerator" when prices rise.

As the recent economic crisis illustrated all too well, however, you can't buy just any high-yielding stock. Dividends that get cut or suspended entirely can wreak havoc on a stock price -- and thus, your portfolio.

Combine high yield with low risk
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to lessen your chances of buying one of these train wrecks. James Early, advisor of our Motley Fool Income Investor service, suggests looking at the payout ratio, for starters. That's simply the percentage of a company's net income used to pay its dividend. Obviously, the higher the payout ratio, the tougher it is for a company to meet its dividend obligation. James looks for a payout ratio less than 80% for safer companies, and a sub-60% or even sub-50% payout for companies you consider risky.

To further stack the odds on your side, you can limit your search to companies that have grown their dividend over the past three years or so. That eliminates the less stable or erratic dividend payers.

I constructed a screen to find some promising high-yield, low-risk industrial and defense companies for further research. I made sure the stocks met the following criteria:

  • Market cap > $1 billion.
  • Payout ratio < 60%.
  • Three-year dividend growth > 0%.
  • Sector, as defined by Capital IQ: Industrials.

Here are the top 10 highest yielders the screen produced:

Company

Market Cap
(in millions)

Payout
Ratio

3-Year Cumulative
Dividend Growth

Dividend
Yield

Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT)

$27,392

34%

79%

3.8%

Raytheon (NYSE: RTN)

$16,402

31%

49%

3.7%

Northrop Grumman

$18,916

26%

27%

3.1%

United Parcel Service (NYSE: UPS)

$72,073

49%

13%

2.9%

Republic Services (NYSE: RSG)

$11,245

50%

28%

2.7%

General Dynamics (NYSE: GD)

$26,174

24%

42%

2.7%

Eaton (NYSE: ETN)

$17,514

37%

31%

2.7%

Emerson Electric (NYSE: EMR)

$41,620

43%

21%

2.5%

Hubbell

$3,780

38%

11%

2.4%

ABM Industries

$1,242

44%

12%

2.4%

Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's.

What this means
Siegel sums it up nicely in his book, The Future for Investors: "Bear markets are not only painful episodes that investors must endure, but also an integral reason why investors who reinvest dividends experience sharply higher returns."

Whether in bear or bull markets, there's a reason why the top-performing stocks over the decades are all dividend payers. If you're lacking that type of exposure in your portfolio, you should take the first steps now toward finding stable dividend payers designed to weather any market cycle.

For more on high-yielding stocks, you may be interested in our research report "13 High-Yielding Stocks to Buy Today." Click here to claim your free copy.

Fool analyst Rex Moore tweets but is not a twerp. He runs a real-money Rising Star Portfolio based on his screens. He owns no companies mentioned here. The Motley Fool owns shares of Raytheon, General Dynamics, United Parcel Service, Northrop Grumman, and Lockheed Martin. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Emerson Electric and Republic Services. 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.