4 Reasons Why This Investment Could be the Best You Ever Make

Contrary to what the financial media machine may imply, starting out with a sizeable brokerage account balance and constantly trading it isn’t the only way to turn a few bucks into a small fortune. Some of today’s biggest personal portfolios started out very small, yet haven’t bought or sold a stock in years. The key is finding an investment with consistent and reliable growth, which more often than not is fueled by dividends rather than price appreciation.

With that as the backdrop, if you have even as little as $1,000 sitting around that you’re looking to do something with, and are willing to let time do the work for you, then 3M Co. (NYSE: MMM) may be your best “buy it and forget it” opportunity right now.

[See: “This Simple Investment Strategy has NEVER Lost Money”]

Surprised? Most investors were probably expecting to see a consumer staple name like Proctor & Gamble (NYSE: PG) or Kraft Foods (NYSE: KFT). Both are fine companies to be sure, but neither gives shareholders a chance to participate in as many different industries as 3M does while still doling out nice cash payments in the meantime.

Let’s look at the all the important criteria 3M meets in being selected as a great buy-and-hold name.

1. Meaningful diversity
At first glance, Proctor & Gamble is a diversified company. The company sells everything from diapers to shampoo to dog food, each of which are needed on a pretty regular basis.

While the company is a master at branding, P&G is still counting on multi-item and repeat purchases from the same consumer. The problem is brand loyalty can wane when economic times get exceedingly tough and/or inflation starts to swell. If Proctor & Gamble has to raise prices on all its products, then it may suddenly find all of them are tough to sell even if at modestly higher costs to consumers. So, it may not be quite as diverse as you think.

3M’s diversity, in comparison, is much healthier. The company manufactures everything from Post-It notes to electrical transmission equipment to auto paint to biotechnology equipment to computer touch screens — and more. Unlike the consumer staples business, if one of 3M’s divisions hits a headwind, then the rest of them don’t necessarily hit the same headwind.

2. Proves track record of sales and earnings
It’s cliche, but it’s cliche for a reason — 3M is highly reliable when it comes to performance and growth. 

On the revenue front, the company actually generated more in 2008 than it did in 2007, though earnings did fall 15.5% in 2008. Income fell another 7.7% in 2009, on an 8.3% decline in total sales. While technically a step in the wrong direction, those are 2008-2009 numbers most other corporations would envy.

It’s what’s happened in the meantime that really seals the deal, though. Revenue in 2010 of $26.6 billion is a record for the company, and the $4.08 billion in income is just a hair shy of 2007’s record net profit of $4.09 billion. 3M has already fully shrugged off the recession and managed to do so while creating a nice profit margin of 15.4%.

3. What about next year’s dividend?

The current dividend yield on 3M shares is a respectable 2.3%. You can find a higher yield, but you may have a hard time finding a better yield that has as good of a shot at being higher next year, and the year after that, and again the year after that.

Not that it’s not worth mulling, but too many investors focus on the current dividend yield rather than dividend growth. And that’s where 3M really shines — 2011 is the 53rd consecutive year the company has boosted its dividend payout.

Granted, the increase has only been about a 3% in recent years, but don’t dismiss the power of consistency. Had you bought $1,000 worth of 3M shares back in 1971 when they were trading around $8.00 and paying out full-year dividends of $0.1156, your yield would have been a modest 1.4%. This would have only netted you $14 in income that year. Today though, that $1,000 investment would be worth $12,000 and generating $276 in annual income. It would have also generated about $4,600 in dividends over the life of your investment.

Of course, reinvesting those dividends would have further improved your total return.

4. It can afford to pay its dividend
You may be surprised how many companies are paying dividends in excess of actual income just to maintain goodwill with investors. The intent is understandable, but the strategy lacks long-term viability.

Fortunately, 3M is one of those companies that can afford the dividend it’s paying — and then some. Its payout ratio — the percentage of its net income it gives to shareholders via dividends — for 2010 was a mere 36%. This cushion gives the company the flexibility it needs when times get tough and leaves room for a little extra payout when times are good.

[“This 7.5% Yield just got a LOT Safer”]

Action to take –> There aren’t too many stocks out there that offer a successful blend of value and growth aspects. 3M is one of them. It’s a truly diverse buy-and-hold (and hold and hold…) name that has enough upside and consistent dividends to simply leave it alone for years on end while reinvesting all the income it generates. [It’s the kind of stock StreetAuthority Co-Founder Paul Tracy calls a “Hold Forever” stock.] It’s never likely to be a grand-slam kind of winner, but just like the World Series, successful portfolios are won with lots of reliable doubles and singles.

The 10 Best Stocks to Hold Forever
One of these stock has plowed through eight bear markets and has returned more than 170,000% since 1972. Every $700 you invested back then would be worth more than $1 million right now. Today, the company is raising its dividends, spending billions to buy back its own shares, making smart acquisitions, and is the dominant leader in a $30 billion market. This is just one of the 10 best “Forever” stocks to own today.