With the market getting knocked around more this year, investors are understandably on edge.
A recent American Association of Individual Investors (AAII) survey found the highest level of investor pessimism in nearly a year, with 38% of respondents saying they were bearish and 31% being bullish. The last time bears outnumbered bulls by such a margin was in late August 2013, according to the AAII.
But why shouldn’t investors be in a sour mood, with global tensions risings and widespread calls for a market correction? These are just the sorts of things that can take the wind out of the market’s sails.
Nobody needs that, especially retirees. With the market and economy so iffy, how are they supposed to generate the equity returns necessary to sustain them during a phase of their lives that could last many years, even decades?
Of course, they’ll need reliable dividend-paying stocks, but now more than ever it’s crucial not to pay too much for such investments. Because if there is a big correction, the loss of principle on overpriced shares will be all that much greater -- and retirees certainly don’t need that, either.
What they do need are stocks with generous, reliable payouts and attractive valuations that provide extra downside cushion in a big selloff. Here are three such stocks every retiree should consider for the equity portion their portfolio.
Sanofi (NYSE: SNY)
Recent price: $52.70
Per-share dividend: $1.91
Forward P/E: 13.5
France-based Sanofi is the world’s fifth-largest drug company by sales, which have averaged $44.8 billion a year for the past five years. The firm has a wide portfolio of medicines -- such as Docetaxel for cancer, Allegra for allergies and many vaccines. SNY's biggest product is its branded insulin Lantus with sales approaching $8 billion a year. SNY also has an animal health segment with $2.7 billion in annual sales.
The firm’s dividend has been trending upward for a decade and is now more than three times 2004’s payout of $0.58 a share. For shareholders, that’s a raise of about 13% a year, and SNY is quite capable of delivering comparable dividend growth in the future.
With 2.62 billion shares outstanding, the firm’s annual payout currently totals $5 billion. Yet it has current assets of $32 billion, including $11.3 billion in cash. Free cash flow has averaged $9.5 billion a year for five years now, and net income typically well exceeds $5 billion annually. With Lantus as a top insulin brand, a strong pipeline (which includes the cholesterol drug alirocumab), and projected earnings per share (EPS) growth of 9% a year, SNY should have no problem generating more than enough liquidity to maintain attractive and rising payouts.
Although the stock is trading for 27 times trailing earnings, it’s very attractively priced on a forward basis because of consensus estimates for EPS of $3.88 next year.
Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT)
Recent price: $169.29
Per-share dividend: $5.32
Forward P/E: 13.7
A dividend of more than $5 a share is pretty uncommon, but Lockheed Martin can comfortably afford this. Its present payout ratio is only 55%, leaving ample room for more raises in coming years (the firm has delivered increases every year for over a decade).
Investors may need to temper their outlook for the rate of growth, though, as LMT likely can’t keep up the 21%-a-year pace it logged from 2008 through 2013. With the U.S. government as by far its largest customer, the firm will find it difficult to escape the effects of the nearly $1 trillion in defense cuts scheduled to occur during the coming nine years under the so-called sequester.
Most worrisome would be big order cancellations for the aeronautics segment’s state-of-the-art F-35 fighter widely seen as LMT’s key revenue source at 16% of net sales. Government budget cuts will also present major obstacles for the other four business units -- missiles and fire control; mission systems and training; information systems and global services; and space systems.
However, LMT is moving to reduce its dependence on the U.S. government by seeking more international business, a task Uncle Sam is simplifying by easing restrictions on weapons sales to foreign customers. One of LMT’s latest foreign buyers is Australia, which recently announced an order for 58 F-35s at a cost of $11.6 billion.
Because of these and other diversification efforts, analysts see LMT increasing EPS by 7.7% a year through 2019 -- only slightly slower than the 8% growth rate of the past five years. Assuming the same 55% payout ratio, this suggests LMT’s dividend could climb to $7.72 a share within five years.
Total SA (NYSE: TOT)
Recent price: $64.08
Per-share dividend: $3.35
Forward P/E: 10.1
Now is an especially good time for dividend seekers to invest in this large, integrated French energy firm, which has annual sales of $234.6 billion. That’s because Total is scaling back a costly phase of capital spending averaging about $30 billion a year for the past few years.
The spending has been for a good purpose -- funding new oil and gas projects to help drive future growth. One such project, expanded development of Total’s Laggan-Tormore deep-water assets west of the U.K.’s Shetland Islands, could add more than 65 million barrels of oil equivalent (BOE) to proven reserves, management estimates. The firm also plans to spend hundreds of millions more to continue its push into South Africa, an area with vast shale gas reserves.
Still, with major capital spending reductions planned and new projects set to bear fruit during the next few years, Total should soon see cash flow spike substantially. For instance, Morningstar analysts estimate operating cash flow will climb to $31.5 billion in 2018 from $25 billion this year, a 26% increase. This should help support a dividend growth rate in the mid-single-digit range in coming years, these analysts say.
Risks to Consider: Whereas LMT will be contending with enormous military spending cuts, Total is vulnerable to falling energy prices. Sanofi may soon see a reduction in revenues from its blockbuster Lantus, which is scheduled to go off-patent next year.
Action to Take --> Sanofi, Lockheed Martin and Total are three of the best dividend opportunities available to retirees right now. They're all cheap on a forward basis and they all yield more than 3%. What’s more, they’re all capable of overcoming the obstacles I’ve described and remaining the types of reliable, generous income payers retirees need.