The tech sector is not one that's typically known for being a great source of dividends. Many technology companies eschew dividends entirely, or pay token dividends, instead favoring share buybacks as the preferred way to return profits to shareholders. But there are a few tech companies that not only pay dividends that are competitive with nontech dividend stalwarts, but have also increased those dividends consistently over the past decade or longer. International Business Machines (NYSE:IBM), AT&T (NYSE:T), and Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) are three examples, and their respective dividend records should be the envy of the tech sector.
Nearly a century of dividends
While IBM is currently going through quite a rough patch, reporting a terrible third quarter that seemed to take everyone by surprise, the company's dividend record remains unblemished. IBM has paid consecutive quarterly dividends every year since 1916, soon after the company's founding, it has raised its dividend each year for the past 19 years, and that increase has been greater than 10% for 11 years in a row. The most recent dividend increase, announced in April of this year, boosted the dividend by 16%.
IBM stock currently yields about 2.7%, well above the current 2% dividend yield of the S&P 500. Looking forward, IBM currently pays out just a small fraction of its earnings in the form of dividends. In fiscal 2013, a little less than a quarter of the company's $16.5 billion in net income was paid out to investors, so there's plenty of room to increase the dividend further, even if the recent issues plaguing the company continue.
IBM does spend far more money on share buybacks than it does on dividends, but the positive for dividend investors is that the reduction in the share count allows the per-share dividends to increase faster than earnings growth without increasing the payout ratio. Even if IBM fails to meaningfully grow earnings over the next few years, the dividend can still rise in the double-digits without putting pressure on the company's cash flow.
A Dividend Aristocrat
AT&T, the telecom giant that provides wireline and wireless services to millions of customers in the United States, is part of a select group of companies known as Dividend Aristocrats. These companies have raised their respective dividends for at least 25 years in a row, and AT&T is one of the only companies on the list that can be considered a tech company. With the latest increase announced in December of last year, AT&T has raised its dividend for 30 years in a row.
AT&T already pays out a significant fraction of its earnings in the form of dividends, and its business is extremely capital intensive. In 2013, AT&T spent a staggering $20.9 billion on capital expenditures, and of the remaining free cash flow, dividends ate up about 70%. Thanks to share buybacks in the past few years, AT&T has managed to increase its per-share dividend while keeping the total amount of cash it pays out to investors essentially flat.
Low-single digit dividend growth is the best investors should expect from AT&T going forward, but with a 5.4% dividend yield and a business with an extremely high barrier to entry, AT&T is an attractive stock for dividend investors.
A growth stock and a dividend stock
Qualcomm's meteoric rise over the past decade, brought on by the explosion of the smartphone market, has brought with it an equally meteoric rise in the company's dividend. From fiscal 2004 to 2013, Qualcomm's revenue increased by a factor of five, earnings per share nearly quadrupled, and its annual dividend payments increased by more than a factor of six. Qualcomm has only been paying a dividend since 2003, but with an increase every year since then, the company has become a reliable dividend growth machine.
Qualcomm's dividend yield is on the low side, just 2.3%, although it's still higher than that of the S&P 500. Qualcomm paid out a little more than 30% of its earnings as dividends in fiscal 2013, although this percentage is now higher thanks to a 20% dividend increase announced earlier this year. Given Qualcomm's continued earnings growth, which analysts expects to top 11% annually over the next five years, along with heavy share buyback activity, which will push the share count lower, double-digit dividend increases are very much in the cards for Qualcomm going forward.
There aren't too many tech stocks that can rightfully be called dividend stocks as well, but IBM, AT&T, and Qualcomm fit the bill. All three have long records of increasing dividends, and all three should be able to continue rewarding shareholders with further increases going forward.
Timothy Green owns shares of International Business Machines. The Motley Fool owns shares of International Business Machines and Qualcomm. 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.