News Analysis date published New: 
Wednesday, November 7, 2012 - 11:30
New Date created: 
Thursday, November 8, 2012 - 10:31
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Wednesday, November 7, 2012 - 11:30

The Safest International Dividend Payer I've Ever Seen

Wednesday, November 7, 2012 - 11:30am

I've found what I think is one of the safest dividend-paying stocks on the planet.

In the past year, this company earned $8.1 billion dollars in profits and only distributed $4.5 billion in dividends. In other words, it could see its earnings fall more than 40%... and still be able to maintain the dividend.

At the same time, this company's stock has held strong, even during market downturns. In fact, if you go back to just before a downturn in 2011, this stock is UP more than 35% -- compared with a 5% return from the S&P 500. Just take a look at the graph...

But let me tell you, it's not billions of dollars in earnings that cover the dividend payment or strong performance in a rocky market that make me think this is one of the safest dividend stocks in the world.

While a healthy dividend and reduced losses may be nice perks for investors, it's what this company does that makes it so stable.

You see, when the economy is strong, people don't have a problem buying high-tech gadgets or spending bundles on luxuries. But as soon as the economy starts to head south, these expenses are the first to be cut.

But there are some goods that people always buy, regardless of the economy. These "necessities," and the companies that make them, often perform well -- even during times of financial uncertainty.

Take cigarettes for example. It doesn't matter much what the economy is doing, people will still buy cigarettes. That's good news for cigarette makers like Philip Morris International (NYSE: PM).

Philip Morris International is the world's second-largest tobacco company (behind China National Tobacco) and holds almost 16% of the non-U.S. market. PMI's brands include seven of the world's top 15 names, including Marlboro, the No. 1 cigarette brand worldwide.

This company is a spin-off of Altria's (NYSE: MO) cigarette business outside U.S. borders. Altria continues to sell its brands -- including Marlboro and Merit -- in the United States, but this business is slowly shrinking.

Outside the United States, it's a different story.

For all of 2011, Philip Morris International saw cigarette sales rise 1.7%, while revenue increased 8.7%.

Looking at sales volume, Europe, which used to buy the most Philip Morris products, has been overtaken by Asia (which now account for 34% of PM's sales).

But as I wrote last year, things are changing. High taxes and new tobacco regulations pushed down sales down in countries such as Greece, Spain and France, places where per-capita tobacco consumption has historically been pretty high.

But this shift is not a bad thing... as you'll read below.

Even though fewer smokers in developed countries are lighting up, estimates still say that there will be 1.4 billion smokers globally by 2020. That's up from the 1.3 billion out there today.

So if it's not the United States and it's not Europe, where are all these new smokers coming from?

Emerging markets.

As countries in these regions expand, there's a substantial increase in the disposable incomes of their citizens. With a little more money in their wallets, a larger percentage of the population can afford premium international cigarettes.

But of course, we're most interested in the dividend -- and its safety.

As of September, Philip Morris International pays a $0.85 per share every quarter; a 10% dividend increase from last year. This amounts to $3.40 per share every year, or a 3.9% yield.

This might not sound like much to write home about, but here's the kicker -- PM has raised the dividend 84.7% since 2008.

And the company can afford this increase to its dividend. PM has a payout ratio of 63% over the trailing 12 months, indicating plenty of room for future growth... and a near zero risk of a cut at this time.

So though shares currently yield almost 4%, investors who buy now are likely to see their yield on cost rise over time.

Now, I know investing in cigarettes may not be for everyone, and I am by no means condoning the behavior. But as an analyst, it's my job to find ripe investment opportunities. And with a history of steady cash flow, the strongest brand names in the industry and substantial emerging-market growth, Philip Morris International is an ideal safety-first income play.

This doesn't mean this investment is risk-free -- nothing short of a savings account is. However, I do think the stock ranks high among the safest dividend-payers in the world.

But Philip Morris is just one of the many income-paying prospects available from companies focused overseas. In fact, I think the abundance of international income investments is one of the market's best-kept secrets... there are literally thousands of high-yielders abroad.

To prove this, I recently had a member of StreetAuthority's research staffs comprise a list of profitable companies with shares yielding 12% or more. What we found was pretty remarkable.

In total, my team found 614 common stocks paying dividends of 12% or higher. However, only 20 of these companies were located in the United States. The other 594 were located in international markets (though most trade on a U.S. exchange).

Action to take --> This means if you want high yielding stocks -- then 97% of your opportunities are located outside the United States.

I have more details -- including several names and ticker symbols -- in a presentation I recently put together. Visit this link to watch now.

Paul Tracy does not personally hold positions in any securities mentioned in this article.
StreetAuthority LLC owns shares of PM in one or more of its “real money” portfolios.