Dividend aristocrats are among the most renowned dividend stocks in the market. Among other requisites, a company needs to have at least 25 years of consistent dividend growth under its belt to be included in that select group of dividend paying corporations.
On the other hand, not every dividend aristocrat is necessarily a good purchase right now. In fact, our contributors believe that investors should better stay away from names such as McDonald's (NYSE:MCD), McCormick (NYSE:MKC), and Target (NYSE:TGT).
Steve Symington (McDonald's): McDonald's has increased its payout every year since it began paying dividends in 1976, effectively cementing its status as a dividend aristocrat. But McDonald's has notably had trouble capturing the attention of younger consumers, whose dining tastes have increasingly shifted toward the higher-quality wares offered by up-and-coming fast casual concepts.
To be fair, McDonald's did show signs of life with its third-quarter 2015 results last month. Revenue declined 5% year over, but it would have increased 7% had it not been for the impact of foreign currency exchange. And global comparable-store sales managed to grow 4%, driven by positive comparable sales in all segments. That marked McDonald's first comparable sales increase in two full years, prompting CEO Steve Easterbrook to call the quarter an "important step in [McDonald's] global turnaround" as it repositions itself as "a modern, progressive burger company." Investors breathed a sigh of relief, driving McDonald's stock up almost 14% last month.
However, McDonald's still has a tremendous amount of work to do to accomplish its goals, and I'm not convinced after years of struggling in the face of faster-growing competitors that single quarter of relative strength merits diving in today. So while that doesn't mean McDonald's can't continue to rise from here, I'm personally content watching its progress from the sidelines for at least another few quarters to determine whether McDonald's turnaround is indeed taking shape.
Andres Cardenal (Target): Target has a long track-record of consistent dividend payments over time. The company has paid uninterrupted dividends since making its first payment in 1967. After announcing a dividend increase of 7.7% for 2015, Target has accumulated 44 consecutive years of growing dividend payments.
The stock is paying a dividend yield of 3% at current prices, which is not bad at all coming from a company with such a solid trajectory of dividend payments. On the other hand, Target is operating in a tremendously challenging industry, and the company could be facing increased difficulties in the years ahead.
Competition in the retail business is downright ferocious, not only among brick-and-mortar retailers, but online players are clearly stealing market share away from traditional stores. Companies such as Target don't have much room for differentiation, so they need to aggressively compete on prices to sustain market share.
In fact, Target has recently announced that it will be launching its Black Friday promotions five days early this year, a move that anticipates just how challenging the retail environment remains this holiday season. Target may be a good company, but it's also operating in a remarkably tough business, so investors should better look for dividend aristocrats in sectors with more promising prospects.
Tim Green (McCormick): In the business of spices and seasonings, McCormick is the undisputed king. The company has a 22% share of the global spices and seasonings market, and it even produces about half of the lower-priced store-brand spices sold annually. Even if consumers don't choose McCormick's branded products, they're likely to be buying from the company anyway.
McCormick has paid a dividend for 91 consecutive years, and it has raised its quarterly dividend payment in each of the past 29 years. The market for spices and seasonings is growing, albeit slowly, and McCormick aims to grow its revenue by 4%-6% annually. The company hasn't been shy to grow its spice empire through acquisitions, with the $100 million purchase of the company behind Stubb's barbecue sauces and the $63 million acquisition of Brand Aromatics both announced earlier this year.
With a strong brand and attractive long-term growth prospects, McCormick may seem like a slam dunk. While the company is top notch, the stock is expensive, and the dividend actually leaves a lot to be desired. Over the past 12 months, McCormick has generated net income of $3.08 per share, putting the price-to-earnings ratio at a lofty 27. Quality companies are naturally more expensive, but McCormick has now reached its highest P/E ratio in about 20 years. EPS has doubled over the past decade, but that's only an annualized rate of about 7%.
Because the stock is so expensive, the dividend yield is a paltry 1.9%. The dividend has grown a bit faster than earnings over the past decade, about 9% annually, but there are many other dividend aristocrats that offer a better combination of dividend yield and dividend growth. McCormick is a great company, and incredibly consistent, but the price seems too high to justify buying the stock.
Andrés Cardenal has no position in any stocks mentioned. Steve Symington has no position in any stocks mentioned. Timothy Green has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends McCormick. 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.