Stocks are effectively at their all-time highs, and now we have the Federal Reserve promising again to not bring swift and massive interest rate hikes. This is a great climate for dividend stocks, and investors just love companies that keep raising their dividend payments. 24/7 Wall St. has already telegraphed several key dividend hikes that have come about in recent weeks, and now there are six more key dividend hikes that investors should be expecting within the next 30 to 45 days.
The so-called Dividend Aristocrats are companies in the S&P 500 Index that have raised their dividends for 25 years or more. Not all the six dividend hikes we expect ahead are in the Dividend Aristocrat category, but some are. Many exchange traded funds have arisen around the strategy of higher dividend payouts.
To project future dividends, investors have to consider earnings per share, growth rates of that income and a payout ratio to make sure they are not getting too far ahead of themselves. Another consideration is a cash limitation from debt covenants, or if that cash on the balance sheet is held overseas and inaccessible without the repatriation penalty.
Companies raising their dividends are effectively sending the message to investors that they have earnings visibility and cash flow visibility for years and years. Dividend hikes may also be a signal of confidence under corporate governance and capital allocations. We had accurately projected that the major banks would be allowed to increase their dividends, and even caught on to the notion that Bank of America might be hamstrung by the Fed.
Before getting too brazen in dividend growth expectations, keep in mind that dividend hikes have become routine enough around the market and many investors just expect dividend hikes no matter what. Without growth, and under certain capital limitations, dividend hikes cannot continue forever. Just do not tell that to these next six companies expected to raise their dividends.
Of the next six dividend hikes expected, none are banks. 24/7 Wall St. expects two oil dividend hikes (yes, really in oil), two in technology, one in consumer products and perhaps even an airline dividend hike.
It is of course possible that not all these companies will raise their dividends. It happens. All caveats aside, these companies have either raised dividends for years, they have just embarked on better payouts or they are in need of a dividend hike. It seems more than a safe assumption that investors will not be happy at all if these companies do not raise their dividends.
One-Month Countdown to Apple’s Big Dividend Hike
Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL) is relatively new to the game of paying dividends and buying back stock, but the consumer electronics giant has so much cash that it has to boost its dividend payment and to keep buying back stock. Apple is still considered a cheap stock, but its dividend yield is a mere 1.5% — low for a company being added to the Dow Jones Industrial Average. Barron’s recently threw out a $160 Apple share price target, in part due to higher dividends and buybacks.
The iPhone 6 continues to be the growth driver today, as does growth in China. New initiatives from the Apple Watch and whatever TV or media plans are coming. Investors should expect an announcement of a dividend hike with the earnings report in mid-April. Our projection is that the dividend will be raised from $0.47 per share to around $0.60 per share. It could of course be even higher, as this level gets the yield to almost 1.9%. A $2.40 annualized payout would compare to the consensus estimate of $8.61 per share for 2015, a payout ratio of about 28%, not counting the buybacks.
Apple was recently trading at $128.50, in a 52-week range of $73.05 to $133.60. The stock has a consensus analyst price target of $138.90, but the highest analyst target price is up at $160.
Chevron Will Deliver, but Maybe Just Barely
Chevron Corp. (NYSE: CVX) delivered a 7% dividend hike last April, months before knowing that oil was going to fall to under $50 a barrel. The company most recently kept its $1.07 per share dividend, and it seems as though it will only deliver a token dividend hike so that it can maintain its status as a dividend grower. Chevron also recently raised $6 billion in a debt offering to shore up its balance sheet.
Earnings were over $10 per share in 2014. The consensus earnings estimate is now $3.81 per share for 2015, down from over $9 per share about 100 days ago. Chevron’s annualized payout of $4.28 presents a conundrum with lower and lower earnings expectations, so we will only predict a 1% dividend hike here, rather than the 7% seen last year. The caveat is if oil drops even further, say, to under $40 per barrel. The current yield is now about 4.2% (high even for a DJIA stock), which does not exactly force it to be too aggressive in raising its payout.
Chevron said as recently as March 10: “Our intention is to demonstrate performance that will allow our 27-year history of successive increases in our annual dividend payout to continue.” Chevron shares were changing hands recently at $106.70. The consensus analyst price target is $113.88, and the 52-week trading range is $98.88 to $135.10.