Dividend stocks are everywhere, but many just downright stink. In some cases, the business model is in serious jeopardy, or the dividend itself isn't sustainable. In others, the dividend is so low, it's not even worth the paper your dividend check is printed on. A solid dividend strikes the right balance of growth, value, and sustainability.
Today, and one day each week for the rest of the year, we're going to look at one dividend-paying company that you can put in your portfolio for the long term without too much concern. This isn't to say that these stocks don't share the same macro risks that other companies have, but they are a step above your common grade of dividend stock. Check out last week's selection.
This week, I'll turn our attention to the auto sector and point out why it's time to forgive and forget by embracing Ford (NYSE:F) as a prime dividend paying company.
Running out of gas?
It isn't hard to be skeptical of automakers, as many darn near fell of the face of the earth during the 2009 recession. General Motors (NYSE:GM), for instance, was forced to take a $49.5 billion loan from the government during its bankruptcy reorganization just so it could continue its day-to-day operations. Ford, while not having to stoop to the level of receiving government money, did ax its dividend for a period of five years, only reinstituting it last year.
Multiple factors are working against the car industry at the moment, both domestically and abroad. At home, higher payroll taxes and delayed tax refunds have crimped disposable income and raised concerns that auto sales may slow -- especially in the second half of the year. Overseas, Ford and GM are dealing with weakness in Europe caused from regionwide austerity measures meant to reduce government budget deficits for numerous nations, and Chinese GDP growth that's markedly below its 30-year average of 10%.
The good news is that Ford appears ready to put the pedal to the metal and drive you and your portfolio to the Promised Land.
Driving over its competitors
Ford offers unique advantages that many of its peers simply haven't been able to compete with. To begin with, the company's EcoBoost engines combine consumers' want for horsepower with improved fuel efficiency. These EcoBoost engines come with turbochargers that give the engine an extra boost when needed while running on less fuel the remainder of the time.
The only true comparable name in "going green" here is Tesla Motors (NASDAQ:TSLA) which has skyrocketed higher recently following its first quarterly profit. Keep in mind, though, that its model S all-electric offerings are expected to total just 21,000 units this year, compared with Ford's roughly 600,000 EcoBoost-powered vehicles (not to mention the fact that Ford has its own electric-vehicle line as well). In total, sales of vehicles with EcoBoost engines this year should total as much as the previous three years of sales, combined!
Ford also has a big edge when it comes to innovation beyond just what's under the hood. The Ford F-Series pickup has been a staple atop the best-selling-vehicles list for decades, and this is all because of continued aesthetic updates. GM, on the other hand, went a good six years without a major redesign to the Sierra and Silverado, which has allowed Ford to retain its pickup dominance.
We can't discount that great leadership is also an area where Ford excels. CEO Alan Mulally has certainly turned this sinking ship around since taking the post as CEO in 2006. Furthermore, Mulally has heralded a new age of growth by pushing his company into emerging markets like China. In April, for example, Ford delivered 37% unit volume growth in China, led almost entirely by its passenger vehicle segment, including its SUV, the Kuga, which sold more than 10,000 units for the second straight month.
By comparison, GM saw a more modest increase of 15% in terms of units sold in China (boosted primarily by its partnership with SAIC Motors), while Japanese carmakers Toyota Motor (NYSE:TM) and Honda Motors (NYSE:HMC) reported declines of 6.5% and 2.4%, respectively. For Toyota, it marked the ninth decline in the past 10 months, and it reinforces some of the prevailing negative sentiment that exists between China and Japan that could give U.S. automakers like Ford an edge and cause sales for Toyota and Honda to slowly sink.
Show me the money Ford!
Where Ford has a shot at really shining is with regard to taking care of its shareholders. If you purchased Ford five years ago, you've already been rewarded with a 122% dividend-adjusted gain, and that could be just the tip of the iceberg if Ford keeps having its way in China and other emerging markets. Ford has two additional ways of rewarding shareholders over the coming decade: through share repurchases and its dividend.
Over the previous three years, Ford has produced average free cash of approximately $5.5 billion while reducing its outstanding share count by close to 160 million shares (close to 4% of all outstanding shares). More importantly, Ford has moved its dividend back into a comfortable range for investors at $0.40 annually -- good enough for a current yield of 2.7%. At this level Ford is paying out just 29% of its earnings in the form of a dividend, leaving ample room to pay down debt and for R&D purposes.
Ford may be nearing a multiyear high yet again, but there looks to be plenty of fight still left in this dog. Ford's engines and designs are being well received in overseas markets, while it's certainly holding its ground in domestic markets against GM and other imports. Led by an incredible CEO, Ford is delivering a yield that puts 10-year U.S. Treasuries to shame and should easily continue to drive over its competition if it stays the course.
Fool contributor 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, and recommends, Ford and Tesla Motors. It also recommends General Motors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't 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.