Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ) has become a staple in dividend investors' portfolios. It's a dividend aristocrat, with a 52-year history of dividend increases -- a feat that only 17 other companies can match. However, our Motley Fool contributors think these three companies could make even J&J investors envious.
Cheryl Swanson: While you can't fault Johnson & Johnson's outstanding streak of dividend increases, another high-quality business that sells household name brands is Procter & Gamble (NYSE:PG). Both are SWAN stocks -- Sleep Well at Night-- but I give P&G the edge in a couple of areas.
First, P&G has a slightly higher dividend of 2.8%, compared with J&J's 2.7%. (OK, let's call that a draw.) But P&G also has a recent history of raising its yield faster. In the past five years, P&G's dividend has grown an average of 8.5% per year, compared with JNJ's 7.3%.
P&G has struggled with sluggish growth over the past few years, but CEO Alan Lafley's return to the helm could turn that around. Lafley is something of a legend in business circles. He was the one who opened the company to emerging markets, as well as created category innovations such as Swiffer and Febreze.
P&G is also in the process of divesting up to 100 brands to focus on the 80 to 90 that account for the lion's share of P&G's sales and profit. Less should prove to be more in this case, and it's already showing up in the company's financial results. Last quarter, P&G increased its net operating cash flow significantly (78% compared with the same quarter last year), as well as its gross profit margin.
Both of these stocks make solid core holdings for income investors. But if the healthcare side of your portfolio has become seriously overweight, thanks to that sector's rapid rise, take a closer look at P&G.
Dan Caplinger: There's no disputing that Johnson & Johnson is a giant in the healthcare space. But biotech pioneer Amgen (NASDAQ:AMGN) gives dividend investors the best of both worlds: a solid current dividend plus greater potential for payout increases because of faster growth.
Amgen stock climbed almost 40% last year, buoyed by a huge pipeline of treatments in which many potential high-sales candidates are currently seeking approval by U.S. and European Union regulators. In particular, Amgen hopes to gain approval for evolocumab, which helps to reduce cholesterol levels, while also seeking expanded uses for its successful Kyprolis cancer treatment. Amgen is also ramping up its efforts in the cardiovascular and biosimilar arenas, with the company's ivabradine seeking approval to treat chronic heart failure and a rise in the number of biosimilar candidates in the company's pipeline.
With just a 2% yield, Amgen doesn't top the list of dividend-paying health care stocks. But the company just boosted its dividend for 2015 by 30%, and shareholders can expect to get $3.16 per share in dividends this year. With a long-term goal of raising the percentage of its adjusted earnings that it returns to shareholders to 60%, Amgen investors can expect even further gains in income in the near future.
Dan Dzombak: Johnson & Johnson is no doubt a high-quality company. It carries some of the top consumer brands, including Tylenol and Band-Aid, as well as a portfolio of some of the most used prescription drugs of any company. Those strengths have helped make the company one of the top U.S. dividend stocks.
That said, one company that I think has a better dividend than Johnson & Johnson is Phillip Morris (NYSE:PM).
The first of three reasons Phillip Morris is a better choice that J&J is that Phillip Morris has more brand power. The company has the No. 1 cigarette brand in 59 countries and more than a 40% market share in 45 countries. It's taken decades to build this much brand strength, and it's that brand strength that keeps competitors at bay. In contrast, most of Johnson & Johnson's growth in recent years has come from its pharmaceutical division, which, while it is a high-margin business, it isn't as strong, since pharmaceuticals have a patent life of only around 20 years. As we saw with Pfizer, business can be hit hard when the patents of their top drugs begin to expire.
Second, Phillip Morris was spun off from Altria in 2008, restarting the company's dividend history. If you include Altria's dividend history, Phillip Morris has a 45-year history of increasing its dividend, which is nearly as good as Johnson & Johnson's history. Further, since the spinoff, Phillip Morris has returned more to shareholders, paying out nearly 80% of its cash flow as dividends, compared with only 45% for Johnson & Johnson.
Third, in the past three years, Phillip Morris has increased its dividend by an annualized 12.4%. Johnson & Johnson has increased its dividend by just 7% a year on average. Those dividend increases compound over time, and I expect Phillip Morris will keep increasing its dividend at a high rate for decades to come.
Cheryl Swanson and Dan Caplinger have no position in any stocks mentioned. Dan Dzombak owns shares of Altria Group and Philip Morris International. The Motley Fool recommends Johnson & Johnson and Procter & Gamble and owns shares of Johnson & Johnson. 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.