The more expensive the market gets, the lower the chances for big returns like we have seen over the past few years. Oh sure, we can probably stretch higher, maybe even as much as 10%, but the bottom line is the huge run in the markets is bound to slow down. So investors should look for not only safety but also total return.
We like to remind readers about the impact that total return has on portfolios because it is one of the best ways to help improve the chances for overall investing success. Again, total return is the combined increase in a stock’s value plus dividends. For instance, if you buy a stock at $20 that pays a 3% dividend, and it goes up to $22 in a year, your total return is 13% — 10% for the increase in stock price and 3% for the dividends paid.
We screened the Merrill Lynch research universe and found four top companies that are rated Buy that pay at least a 4% dividend. These are stocks that can add total return to portfolios and are not priced dangerously high.
The maker of tobacco products and wine posted very solid numbers in the first half of the year, and the third quarter is looking good as well. Altria Group Inc. (NYSE: MO) is a top mega-cap consumer discretionary stock to buy on Wall Street, and the company’s Marlboro brand remains one of the most recognizable in the world.
Many Wall Street analysts concede that the stock has solid downside support owing to the generous dividend yield, which remains at a huge premium in relation to the 10-year Treasury rate. Cash flow generation and the return of cash to Altria shareholders remain key facets of the company’s total shareholder return, and the analysts expect support of the strong dividend, which they believe will continue to climb along with strong share repurchase activity. The board also recently raised the dividend by 8.2%.
To diversify away from cigarettes and cigars, Altria has expanded its portfolio into new categories like wine, e-cigarettes and a 27% stake in brewer SABMiller, which together generated nearly 10% of its pre-excise tax revenue last quarter.
Altria investors receive a 4.23% dividend. The Merrill Lynch price target for the stock is $78, and the Wall Street consensus estimate is $71.69. The stock closed Friday at $62.39.
This top company has one of the highest yielding domestic stocks in the energy sector. Occidental Petroleum Corp. (NYSE: OXY) is an oil-levered multinational organization with principal business segments in oil and gas and in chemicals. The oil and gas segment explores for, develops, produces and markets crude oil and natural gas, primarily in the U.S. Permian Basin, Colombia, Bolivia, Libya, Oman, Qatar and Yemen. The chemicals segment manufactures and markets basic chemicals, vinyls and performance chemicals.
With a rock-solid balance sheet and a commitment to dividend coverage, investors look safe for now. Occidental has paid quarterly cash dividends continuously since 1975, and it has increased its dividend each year since 2002. The company reported solid earnings and recently raised the dividend. The analysts said this in a recent report:
Occidentals recent dividend increase is a small but significant signal of management’s commitment to its dividend growth strategy. The dividend is covered by cash flow bricks. Permian growth currently funded by asset sales, looks self-funding by end 2018. At $50 oil, the company grows at 5% and fully covers a current 5% yield – the highest of the US oils, with room for growth post 2018.
Shareholders receive a 5.02% dividend. Merrill Lynch has a $70 price target, which compares with a consensus target of $65.13. The stock closed Friday at $61.35.