The COVID-19 recession has only just started, but the stock market almost magically has recovered roughly half of its losses. The public is becoming more comfortable predicting a peak in the COVID-19 cases in many parts of America. Federal and state politicians are grappling with how and when to reopen America for business, and any serious misstep could drag the economic and physical pain on for much longer. Investors have begun trying to position themselves for the rest of 2020 in a post-bull market climate.
A common theme throughout the recent and rapid recovery in stocks was that the coronavirus lockdown will pass. That is being supported by trillions of dollars thrown at taxpayers and business owners to act as a backstop. While many investors have been trying to look through the storm, the coming weeks and months are not riskless. One haven for investors throughout good times and hard times has been companies with safe and stable dividends.
24/7 Wall St. has run screens of the dividend leaders and laggards in the S&P 500 and found 15 base economy stocks that score highly in dividends against their peers. This list excluded the technology sector, companies that have pending drug decisions, and the speculative sectors outside of the base economy. What these companies do have is plenty of earnings coverage and balance sheets that can withstand recessions. If a company does not pay a dividend, or if the dividend yield was too low, they were not eligible to be included on this list of companies.
Of the 411 members of the S&P 500 that pay a dividend, the median dividend is about 2.6%, compared with Treasury yields of 0.73% for the 10-year note and 1.35% for the 30-year long bonds. The stock market acts as a price discovery vehicle for where the economy will be in the months and quarters ahead. The rally that was seen in late March and early April was a vote that the economy would be on the road to recovery before the end of 2020. This is why investors have not entirely abandoned the stock market.
A note from the strategy team at BofA Securities suggests that dividends in stronger companies are far more likely to be maintained, even if the same is not true for share buybacks. Outside of energy and financials, Goldman Sachs sees dividend safety in the S&P 500 as well. The team at Bernstein has questioned how safe dividends are in this sudden recession, while analysts at Wolfe Research project more dividend cuts.
As for safety, the basic assumptions are that the economic numbers will look atrocious in April, May and even into the summer, followed by an improvement in the fall. Those assumptions are not foolproof, and if there is a second wave of COVID-19 that shuts down America (and the world) again later in 2020, then investors likely will realize they built in too optimistic of a scenario.
Here are 15 strong and steady dividend stocks that almost all investors should feel comfortable owning for after the COVID-19 recession.
American Electric Power Co. Inc. (NYSE: AEP) has a long history of being a dividend hound for electric utility investors. AEP is still in the process of moving away from coal and to a cleaner footprint, but it has been measured in that effort so that it has been able to operate with ease. American Electric Power stock was last seen trading around $83.50, and its $2.80 payout is about 65% of normalized earnings that comes with a 3.35% dividend yield.
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