Companies like Ford (NYSE:F), Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX) and Whole Foods (NASDAQ:WFM) are not usually included among the most popular dividend growth names since they don´t have a long and time-proven track records of consistent dividend increases over the years. However, investing is about the windshield, not the rearview mirror, and these companies have the fundamental strength to continue delivering big dividend increases for years to come.
Ford is accelerating
Ford has made an impressive turnaround over the last years, the company has materially improved the quality of its vehicles with better designs and greater fuel efficiency, and customers are responding with growing demand for the company´s products.
In addition to its long standing leadership position in light trucks, Ford has also achieved market share gains cars during the last quarters. Sales of F-Series trucks have increased by 19.8% in the first ten months of the year and models like Escape, Fusion and Explorer are also remarkably strong with sales growth of 13.9%, 19.9% and 22.1% respectively.
China is looking like a particularly promising opportunity for the iconic American automaker. Ford had a late start in the Asian giant, but it's recovering the lost ground with rapidly growing revenues: sales in the country increased by a whopping 52% in the first ten months of 2013 to a total of 741,818 vehicles for Ford and its joint ventures.
Ford reinstated its dividends in 2012 and doubled its payments to $0.10 per share this year. The auto industry is notoriously cyclical and competitive, but Ford has come a long way in streamlining its balance sheet and gaining competitive strength. The company yields a 2.4% in dividends and the payout ratio is comfortably low in the area of 19% of earnings.
Starbucks is firing on all cylinders, the company delivered a 13% increase in revenue during the last quarter; this was fueled by the opening of 588 new stores and a healthy increase of 7% in global comparable store sales. The company is aggressively expanding its store count, but new openings are not hurting sales at existing locations, demand remains healthy and Starbucks is doing the smart thing by actively betting on growth.
Profit margins are on the rise too, consolidated operating margin expanded 220 basis points to 17.6% during the quarter, and the company generated a big increase of 37% in earnings per share to $0.63. Management is expecting to open approximately 1,500 new stores in fiscal 2014 which in combination with comparable store sales growth in the mid single digits should produce revenue growth above 10% in the next year according to guidance.
Acquisitions like Teavana, La Boulange and Evolution Fresh offer exciting opportunities for growth by leveraging the company´s differentiated brand and customer experience into different product categories like specialized tea, pastry and premium juice.
Starbucks increased its dividends by a solid 24% in the last quarter, even if the dividend yield of 1.3% doesn´t sound too exciting, the company´s growth prospects and moderate payout ratio below 40% of earnings leave plenty of room for growing distributions in the coming years.
Fresh and healthy dividends
Whole Foods has been one of the most remarkable success stories in the grocery sector over the last several years; the company is a major beneficiary of the natural and organic foods movement, and a talented management team has translated growing demand into a 20.5% annual increase in earnings per share over the last five years.
However, the company disappointed investors with lower than expected sales growth and reduced guidance during the last quarter. Sales for the third quarter increased by 10.8% on a comparative 12-week basis, comparable-store sales growth was 5.8%, a slowdown from previous quarters and below analysts' expectations.
Whole Foods is offering more discounts, matching competitor's prices, and adding lower-cost brands to its products assortment to expand into new markets and attract lower-income consumers. Accelerating store growth seems to be generating some cannibalization too.
But the company still owns a leading brand in the organic foods business and a reputation for quality. Management is well known for its culture of innovation and efficiency and Whole Foods has profit margins of 6.7% at the operating level, well above the industry average of 3% according to data from Morningstar.
Even if growth slows down a bit as the business matures and competition increases, this high quality organics grocery still has unquestionable financial strength and plenty of room for expansion due to its relatively small store base of 367 stores.
The company announced a 20% dividend increase to $0.12 per share for the last quarter. The dividend yield of 0.8% is still quite modest, but the payout ratio in the area of 25% allows for tasty dividend increases over the coming years.
When selecting dividend-growth stocks, focusing solely on past performance can sometimes mean missing some truly interesting opportunities. Companies like Ford, Starbucks and Whole Foods are not among the most popular dividend-growth names, but they could easily be considered as such a few years down the road. Their strong prospects going forward make them worth a closer look by any Foolish investor looking to break out and invest in tomorrow's rock-solid dividend names.