Behavioral economists have proven that women are better long-term investors than men. They take fewer risks, trade less, and sell losers faster. Still, a majority of women are intimidated by the stock market, and younger women are the most afraid of all.
A recent Fidelity survey (link opens PDF) found that women are more likely to defer investing decisions to their spouse or boyfriend (you can see their great infographic here). The most surprising finding was that Gen Y and Gen X women rate themselves as less financially capable than Boomers or retired women.
There are theories floating around as to why younger women are spooked by investing. Chief among these are recent memories of the financial crisis or the aggressively masculine tack that financial services and the financial press take. That said, women should invest for their own peace of mind and security.
According to Learn Vest, one in four women now earn more than their partners and outlive these partners by five years on average. These younger women have the advantage if they start investing now thanks to the magic of compound interest. One of the best way to take advantage of compound interest over the long term is by investing in quality stocks that pay dividends. Put simply, a dividend is a taxable payment to shareholders given out as a percentage of a company's earnings -- known as the "yield" -- and usually paid out once per quarter. Over the last 80 years, 44% of stock market returns are attributable to dividends. By reinvesting dividend payments back into their shareholdings, investors can achieve stunning portfolio growth over time.
Even better, by investing in Dividend Aristocrats -- a rarefied group of only 50 companies that have consistently raised their dividend annually for 25 years or more -- new investors can sleep at night. Dividend Aristocrats are also inherently less risky, as they have proven business models and are usually committed to keeping and growing their dividends.
Because one size does not fit all, here are three Dividend Aristocrats to consider. All three are large caps with market capitalizations of $10 billion or more, making them relatively safe and stable performers. Market cap refers to the total dollar value of a company, which is the number of issued shares multiplied by the share price.
Not just good on paper
Kimberly-Clark (NYSE:KMB) is a global maker of personal paper products. You know Kimberly-Clark's products: Kleenex, Scott paper towels, Cottonelle bath tissue, various feminine products, and Huggies diapers. Four of the company's brands generate $1 billion-plus in revenue annually.
It offers a respectable 3.1% dividend yield and has a low beta of 0.12. Beta is a measurement of a stock's volatility -- i.e., how much the stock's price will fluctuate in relation to the broader market. Kimberly-Clark's beta of less than one means the stock's price is relatively stable and not particularly sensitive to the market's ups and downs. Another shareholder-friendly benefit is that Kimberly-Clark is buying back its own shares to the tune of $1.2 billion in 2013, thereby making each share more valuable.
Kimberly-Clark surprised Wall Street when it reported a 7% rise in adjusted earnings per share for the third quarter. This was thanks to cost-cutting initiatives and double-digit international sales growth. The company also raised its outlook to reflect expectations of 8% to 10% year-on-year earnings-per-share growth.
International and emerging-market growth is the company's key performance driver. International sales account for 39% of the company's business, so it was encouraging that Chinese diaper sales, for example, were up 45%.
Protect your portfolio with this insurer
You've certainly seen the commercials starring the Aflac (NYSE:AFL) duck. The insurance company's stock is trading at multiyear highs, but it still has a price-to-earnings ratio of 10.1, which suggests that the stock is not in fact overpriced. Simply put, the price-to-earnings ratio, or P/E, equals share price divided by annual earnings. For example, if a company costs $10 a share and earns $2 per share per year, it has a P/E of five. Put another way, investors are paying $5 for every dollar the company earns.
The supplemental life and health insurer has an impressive net profit margin of 12.5% -- net profit margin being the percentage of sales a company ultimately keeps after costs.
Aflac does bigger business in Japan (accounting for 75% of pre-tax earnings) than in the U.S. In fact, it is Japan's leading life and supplemental insurer. However, fear of a sluggish Japanese economy has kept the stock price in check. That represents the bearish argument -- i.e., the argument against investing in the company.
Not to worry: The company has more growth opportunities domestically, with 55 million Americans working for small businesses. Aflac already covers 50 million people globally. Supplemental insurance is also a more profitable line of insurance, as far fewer claims are filed -- just more than 33% of premiums for Aflac compared to 75% for other kinds of insurance. Further, the stock offers a respectable dividend yield of 2.2%. That is the bullish (i.e., pro) case for Aflac.
Big money in health care
Medtronic (NYSE:MDT) is the largest medical-device maker globally, operating in 140 countries, with a P/E of 15.2 and a 1.9% yield. It has raised its dividend for 35 years and has bought back 14% of its shares over the last five years. This shows both conviction and a dedication to shareholder-friendliness.
Its stock is trading near a 52-week high thanks to FDA approval of the company's history-making artificial pancreas following additional FDA-approved indications of its Complete endovascular stent. The company also innovates therapies for cardiovascular care, diabetes, neurosurgery, orthopedics, and much more.
Of the three companies featured here, this Aristocrat has the highest net profit margin, at 22.7%. The company is also committed to returning 50% of that free cash flow to shareholders through dividends or share buybacks.
Start investing now
The sooner you start investing, the sooner you start making money. Younger women in particular have the advantage of time. By investing in Dividend Aristocrats, you will grow your confidence in your financial acumen. Hopefully, we can soon call it financial acuwomen as women empower themselves.
AnnaLisa Kraft has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Aflac and Kimberly-Clark. The Motley Fool owns shares of Medtronic. 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.