One of the ways that companies reward their long-term shareholders is by paying out a dividend. Some of the best companies out there not only do so on a regular basis but also increase their payout year after year, turbocharging their shareholders' total return.
Wall Street has a special name for any company that has managed to increase its dividend for 25 years straight. These companies are known as "Dividend Aristocrats," and becoming a member of this elite group is rare, especially in today's ultra-competitive environment. Companies that make this list tend to be some of the most stable and reliable long-term stocks out there.
But just because a stock has managed to become a Dividend Aristocrat doesn't mean it's automatically a great buy. For that reason, we asked our team of Motley Fool contributors to highlight a company from the Dividend Aristocrat list that they would never want to own. Read below to see which stocks they picked.
Before investing, it pays to take heed of the common warning: Past performance does not predict future results. That particular warning is apt in the case of Wal-Mart Stores (WMT 0.39%). After declaring its first annual dividend of $0.05 in March 1974, the company has increased its payout every year thereafter to its current total of $2.00 annually, providing income investors with annualized dividend growth of 9%. If you were one of the few prescient investors to buy the stock at its IPO price of $16.50 per share and had the foresight to hold the position through 11 2-for-1 stock splits, you'd be sitting on a gain of nearly 8,500%.
During that time frame,its store count grew from 51 U.S.-based locations to 11,527 retail units with more than half being international. However, these locations are more likely to become liabilities rather than assets in the upcoming years. Recently, Wal-Mart was subject to negative press when the company announced it would close 269 stores, 154 in the United States alone, the majority of which were the smaller-format Walmart Express.
Ironically, Wal-Mart now finds itself victim to the same forces it used to demolish mom-and-pop retailers on its rush to top retailer: superior logistics and a relentless focus on lower prices. While Wal-Mart was focused on keeping costs (including labor) low and building new storefronts, online retailer Amazon perfected the online shopping channel and shipping logistics. Forrester Research estimates online shopping is increasing in scope and predicts 9.5% annualized growth through 2019 as more consumers shift to online channels.
I'm not saying Wal-Mart's dividend is at risk, certainly not in the short term, but I think the company is going to continue to exhibit a slow-growth top line and perhaps continued year-over-year revenue decreases like FY2016. I do like Dividend Aristocrats, but I also want a company exhibiting some semblance of growth. Wal-Mart is currently failing that second test and I don't envision that to change in the immediate future.
For decades, fast-food operator McDonald's (MCD 0.35%) has been showering its investors with dividends, making it one of the most reliable income stocks to own. The company's huge scale and operational excellence allowed it to offer consumers convenient food at low prices, which was a strategy that worked like a charm for a long time.
However, I believe that the company's long-term strategy is no longer as viable as it once was, so it's unlikely that the McDonald's of the future will be anywhere near as successful.
What's changed? For one, consumers are shifting their diets toward healthier food offerings, with the all-important millennial generation leading the charge. Unlike baby boomers who sought out fast food base solely on price and convenience, millennials are willing to pay more to get better-tasting and healthier food. They also tend to be more concerned about how their food is raised and prepared, which is causing them to shy away from the offerings of McDonald's and toward healthier options like Chipotle or "better burger" restaurants such as Shake Shack.
That trend has put McDonald's in a bind, as it's simply not set up to compete on quality. In response, the company has been forced to make a number of moves to help stem its traffic declines like offer breakfast foods all day and refresh the look of its stores, but I think those moves will only be temporary solutions to the company's long-term problem. For that reason, I think McDonald's sales are set up to stagnate or decline for the foreseeable future.
To be fair, McDonald's still generates a healthy cash flow and it owns a lot of valuable real estate, so its dividend is certainly not in any danger of being cut. But over the long term, I have a hard time seeing the company growing, so for that reason I can't see myself ever being a buyer of the stock.
Daniel B. Kline
While people have been telling AT&T (T 0.61%) shareholders that the company's best days were behind it since landlines began being supplanted by wireless phones, the day of reckoning may actually soon be at hand. Even though the company has a strong position in its core wireless, Internet service, and broadband markets, cataclysmic change could be coming to two of those business segments.
In cable, AT&T, which also owns DirecTV, faces the same cord-cutting risks every player in the space deals with. It's unknown whether people will ever flee traditional cable, but there is clearly pressure to offer cheaper skinny bundles. That makes pay TV at best a shrinking business and, at worst, one that could collapse like newspapers or the music industry.
That alone would not be enough to get me to swear off AT&T forever. But pairing the company's exposure in pay television with the risk it faces in wireless seals the deal.
In the wireless space, the company has operated as a high-priced bully. Instead of leveraging customer service or price, it has used the quality of its network as its hook. For years, that has been a real differentiator, at least from the low-cost carriers, but that advantage is rapidly deteriorating.
It's not that AT&T's network has fallen in quality; it's that the company's cheaper rivals have improved theirs. It may take years for people to notice and trust this, but we're headed toward a world where all four major carriers are viable choices. In that market, AT&T either has to cut price dramatically or watch an exodus of subscribers.
Really, it's not a question of whether AT&T will lose customers; it's a question of how long it will take.