4 Safe Dividend Stocks to Buy Now, Even as the Market Gets Extended

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The way 2016 started off, it looked like we were in for a very dreary year. By mid-February the market had dropped a stunning 11.4% in six short weeks. The second market correction in six months and the kind of market volatility and action that brings all the perma-bearish commentators like David Tice out for a while. The question is whether it is time to follow tradition and “sell in May and go away”?

The answer to that question is probably no. With yields still at historic lows, and looking to stay that way, and dollar strength waning, it’s probably time to rotate into stocks that pay a solid dividend, have a global footprint and reported solid first-quarter numbers. We screened the Merrill Lynch research universe database for stocks that have those traits and found four stellar ideas. All are rated Buy.

Altria

The maker of tobacco products and wine has posted very solid numbers through the first half of the year and the fourth 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. The analysts expect support of the strong dividend, which they believe will continue to climb, and strong share repurchase activity.

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. With SABMiller being acquired, Altria will have a huge stake in the world’s biggest beer company.

The company reported solid first-quarter numbers that beat estimates this week, and more importantly, reaffirmed guidance going forward. Altria reported net income of $1.22 billion for the quarter, or $0.62 per share, up from $1.02 billion, or $0.52 per share, for the same period last year. Adjusted earnings were $0.72 per share, beating the FactSet consensus estimate. Revenue for the quarter totaled $6.07 billion, up from $5.80 billion and ahead of the FactSet consensus. So all-in-all, a very strong set of numbers.

Altria investors receive 3.67% dividend. The Merrill Lynch price target for the stock is $66, and the Thomson/First Call consensus estimate is $65.75. The stock closed Thursday at $62.19.


Coca-Cola

This company remains a top Warren Buffet holding and offers not only safety, but an incredible strong worldwide brand. Coca-Cola Co. (NYSE: KO) is the world’s largest beverage company, refreshing consumers with more than 500 sparkling and still brands. Led by Coca-Cola, its portfolio features 20 billion-dollar brands, including Diet Coke, Fanta, Sprite, Coca-Cola Zero, vitaminwater, Powerade and Minute Maid. Globally, it is the top provider of sparkling beverages, ready-to-drink coffees and juices and juice drinks. Through the world’s largest beverage distribution system, consumers in more than 200 countries enjoy its beverages at a rate of more than 1.9 billion servings a day.

Top analysts have noted that there are four main drivers of potential continued upside for the stock.

  1. Volumes are accelerating due to re-franchising.
  2. The importance of new marketing and the impact on category growth and market share trends.
  3. A growing cost culture at the company that should result in a best-in-class profit per employee metrics.
  4. Most importantly perhaps, the emergence of pricing power for the drink giant.

Despite reporting better than expected first-quarter results, the stock was hit as many portfolio managers were overweight consumer stocks, and the market noted that the company’s multiple had jumped higher than peers. It is important to remember though that the company own 31.5% of Monster Beverage, which continues to deliver big numbers.

Coca-Cola investors receive a 3.14% dividend. Merrill Lynch has a $52 price target. The consensus target is $47.91, and the stock closed Thursday at $44.63.