What's your dividend style? Do you seek out the highest dividend yields, or stocks with the most impressive track record of dividend growth?
If it's the latter, then you're surely aware of the S&P 500 Dividend Aristocrats, which we have written about on many occasions.
In an interesting twist on this theme, my colleague Christian Hudspeth recently applied a "Dogs of the Dow"-style approach to this group, focusing on the 10 components in this index that sport the current highest yields. (For an updated look at the relative yields, click here and sort by yield.)
I like Christian's approach. It's likely to continually produce solid investment candidates, with its focus on stocks that are currently out of favor (dogs, in other words) but poised to win back converts.
There's also another way you can focus on this group of 54 stocks: Forget about yields, and focus on business models that are best geared for the next decade or even half-century. Here are my three favorite buy-and-hold Dividend Aristocrats for the years ahead.
1. Pentair (NYSE: PNR)
It's impossible to know what our economy will look like in the future, but we'll likely be driving autonomous cars, generating much of our own power from clean energy, and will be exploring new forms of technologically advanced entertainment.
One thing that won't change? The need for all kinds of industrial equipment to keep our factories humming, our roads paved, our water clean, and all of the other behind-the-scenes industrial processes taking place in our economy.
Pentair makes a variety of industrial parts that keep it all going, including valves, filters, pumps, purifiers, and so on. Oil and gas firms, power companies, municipal water treatment facilities, mining, food and beverage, and many other industries help support Pentair's growing revenue base.
Pentair is never shy about making the right acquisitions, which explains why sales have shot up from $3 billion in 2010 to more than $7 billion last year. Equally important, the dividend has risen at least 5% each year for the past decade, with that figure accelerating to around 10% in recent years. That dividend growth should make Pentair quite appealing, even when interest rates start to rise.
2. Leggett & Platt (NYSE: LEG)
As is the case with Pentair, this company has broad exposure to many parts of the economy. Leggett & Platt makes many of the interior components found in bedding and chairs, and has also become a leading supplier of manufactured coils, tubes, shelves and other industrial components.
Though sales have been growing only 5% a year on an organic basis, management has shown a savvy knack for squeezing out profits at a faster pace. Earnings per share (EPS) are expected to rise to around $2 next year, from around $1.50 last year.
LEG experienced a major growth spurt in the dividend the last time the U.S. economy was in solid form: Dividends rose at a 20% average pace in 2007 and 2008, but the subsequent economic slowdown led to dividend hikes in the 4% range in recent years. The accelerating pace of EPS, which should continue if the economy strengthens as expected, might help the dividend -- already an impressive 3.5% current yield, among the highest of all Dividend Aristocrats -- regain that pace.
3. Archer Daniels Midland (NYSE: ADM)
ADM touches almost every aspect of our nation's agricultural industrial complex. But in recent years, it has been through a tough slog due to erratic commodity prices, unusual weather and "on again, off again" dynamics for corn-based ethanol.
Back in January, I noted that ADM was set for better days ahead as business trends smoothed out, and that indeed now appears to be the case: Analysts expect EPS to rise more than 20% this year, and around 15% next year (to around $3.50 a share), which should set the stage for solid dividend growth.
From 2005 through 2009, ADM was a dividend-boosting machine, hiking the payout roughly 15% annually. After that, the dividend rose only by single digits, but it has already been boosted 26% this year (to $0.96 a share) and could rise at a double-digit pace over the next few years as well, given that the payout ratio remains fairly low.
Risks to Consider: Rising interest rates tend to diminish the appeal of dividend-paying stocks, but that shouldn't matter if you're a long-term investor focused on growing income streams.
Action to Take --> The proof of the merit of these Dividend Aristocrats was found in 2008 and 2009, when they managed to keep hiking their dividends even in the face of serious economic headwinds. That likely sets the stage for ongoing dividend increases, regardless of the economic climate.