‘Be safe’ has become a standard greeting these days, an expression of concern between friends during a time of pandemic disease and widespread civic disturbances. It’s also a piece of wise advice for investors. Mixed messages from the markets are confusing investors – some indexes, the Dow Jones particularly but to a lesser extent the S&P 500, are indicating that we’ve reached plateau in the bull rally, while the NASDAQ continues its upward tear.
Dividend stocks have long been a traditional ‘safe zone’ for investors looking for some portfolio protection. While these stocks typically offer a lower-than-average share appreciation, the dividend makes up for that by ensuring a steady income stream no matter how the shares move. The corona crisis has upended some of these calculations, however; as economies tanks and markets fell, companies tightened their belts and hunkered down – and many once-reliable dividends were slashed back, or suspended, or saw their payout ratios skyrocket as earnings fell.
But not every stock felt the hurt. Analysts from investment firm Piper Sandler have done the legwork for dividend investors. They’ve scoured the market, and found safe dividend stocks. These are equities which have remained steady during the crisis – not cuts for suspensions here. And better – their payout ratios, a key metric indicating the ability of the company to maintain the dividend – are below 50%. And finally, these are stocks that Piper Sandler gives a Buy rating, with plenty of upside potential. Using TipRanks database, we’ve pulled up the details on three such stocks.
Horizon Bancorp, Inc. (HBNC)
First on the list, Horizon Bancorp, is the holding company behind Indiana’s Horizon Bank. Horizon Bancorp offers both retail and commercial banking, along with investment management, retail lending, and insurance services. The company was hurt by the coronavirus epidemic, with the economic shutdowns reducing business to a trickle.
Like most companies during the first quarter, HBNC saw earnings drop sharply. EPS came in at 26 cents, 10% below the forecast and down 36% from the previous quarter. While these declines are serious, earnings have remained sufficient for the company to keep up its dividend. At 12 cents per share quarterly, the payment is well below the quarterly net profit, with a payout ratio of just 46%.
The affordable dividend is in line with Horizon’s long-term trends. Until the corona crisis, earnings had been trending modestly upward, and the company had been gradually raising the dividend payment for several years. In the most recent dividend declaration, for a July 17 payment, HBNC kept the payment steady for the fifth quarter in a row.
Reliability is only one sign of a dividend’s health. The yield is the other common metric. HBNC’s dividend yield, at 5.07%, beats the 2.46% average among its finance sector peers by a wide margin, and beats the ~2% average found among S&P listed companies by a wider one. Combined with the company’s commitment to maintaining the payment, the yield is a clear attraction for investors.
Finally, Horizon Bancorp has been able to improve its liquidity situation in recent weeks. The company completed a $60 million 10-year subordinated debt offering in June, raising capital to weather the corona storm.
In his recent note on this stock, Piper Sandler’s Nathan Race expressed general confidence in the company, writing, “[We] are increasingly more comfortable with HBNC's overall asset quality profile relative to peers following HBNC's first public earnings conference call and well-detailed disclosures in its earnings materials surrounding the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.”
Race reiterated his stance adding after the recent debt offering, “[We] view this capital raise positively as HBNC noticeably increases TRBC amid the industry-wide uncertain credit backdrop.”
Race rates HBNC a Buy, and his $14.50 price target suggests room for a 53% upside over the coming year. (To watch Race’s track record, click here)
First of Long Island Corporation (FLIC)
Next on our list is another bank holding company, The First of Long Island. FLIC’s main subsidiary is the First National Bank of Long Island, operating in Nassau and Suffolk Counties, New York, and on Manhattan Island. The company shows a similar story to Horizon Bancorp, above: a fundamentally sound bank, hit by the coronavirus recessionary pressures.
In another similarity to Horizon, FLIC has succeeded in keeping earnings high enough to maintain the dividend despite a 17% sequential drop in Q1. In fact, FLIC has held steady to its policy of share repurchases and dividend payments throughout the coronavirus period. In January, the company announced it was the stock repurchase program by $15 million; in March, it declared a Q1 dividend of 18 cents per share; and at the end of June, it declared the Q2 dividend for the same amount. This is the fourth consecutive quarter with the dividend at 18 cents; the company’s pattern has been to raise the payment each year, after the calendar Q2 payment – so this will bear close watching next quarter.
In the meantime, investors can take comfort in the 47% payout ratio and 5.09% yield on this reliable dividend. Despite the share depreciation recently, FLIC’s dividend continues to deliver returns.
Alexander Twerdahl, covering this stock for Piper Sandler, noted: “FLIC has long been among the most conservatively managed institutions in the country [...] FLIC has increased its dividend every year dating back to at least the late 1980s. The payout ratio in 2019 was 42%, suggesting that there is room for dividend growth even in a stressed earnings environment [...] Finally, FLIC trades at just 94% of TBV and 8.1x 2021E, which we view asan attractive entry point in light of the above.”
To this end, Twerdahl rates FLIC a Buy along with a $19 price target, which implies a strong one-year upside potential of 34%. (To watch Twerdahl’s track record, click here)
Silvercrest Asset Management (SAMG)
Last up, we move from banks to asset management. Silvercrest offers investment and advisory services, including consulting services, financial planning, and wealth management to individuals of high net worth, as well as charitable foundations. Where the two banks on our ‘safe dividend’ list have underperformed in stock price, SAMG shares have held up remarkably well during the current cycle. During the market’s rebound and bull rally, the shares recouped all of their initial losses; after recent volatility, SAMG is trading within its February levels.
It’s no wonder that SAMG has had no difficulty maintaining its dividend. Quarterly earnings showed a sequential gain from Q4 to Q1, bucking the general trend of the ‘corona quarter.’ At 36 cents, the EPS was more than enough to sustain the dividend.
In fact, Silvercrest management raised the dividend in their last declaration. Announced in February, the March quarterly dividend was increased to 16 cents, a raise of 6.6%. That rate was paid out again in June.
The 16-cent dividend annualizes to 64 cents per share, and makes the yield 5.43%. With a payment ratio of 44%, that gives SAMG the ‘safest’ dividend on today’s list.
Piper Sandler is the only firm on Wall Street covering SAMG, with reviews provided by analyst Sumeet Mody. Mody says of this company, “We remain positive on SAMG following the results of 1Q20. We like the organic growth seen in the quarter, strong balance sheet and continued strong performance across the strategies.”
The analyst rates the stock a Buy, and backs that with a $15 price target, implying a 27% upside for this year, from the current share price of $11.78. (To watch Mody’s track record, click here)
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