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64 Best Dividend Stocks You Can Count On in 2020

Dan Burrows, Contributing Writer, Kiplinger.com

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When it comes to dividend stocks, yield isn't everything. If you're an income investor in it for the long haul, you know that steadily rising payouts are a vital factor, too.

For one, dividend increases lift the yield on an investor's original cost basis, meaning today's 1% yield might be much more in the future. They're also indicative of a firm's ability to withstand the ups and downs of the economy, as well as the stock market.

Enter the Dividend Aristocrats.

The Dividend Aristocrats are companies in the S&P 500 Index that have improved their annual payouts every year for at least 25 consecutive years. It's a mix of household names as well as companies with less name recognition that nonetheless play an outsize role in the American economy, even if it's mostly behind the scenes. But all of them offer some size, longevity and familiarity, providing comfort amid market uncertainty.

Here are the current 64 Dividend Aristocrats - including the newest faces that were just added in January 2020. These have been among the best dividend stocks for income growth over the past few decades, and they're a great place to start if you're looking to add new dividend holdings to your long-term portfolios.

SEE ALSO: The 20 Best Stocks to Buy for 2020

Roper Technologies

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Market value: $39.5 billion

Dividend yield: 0.5%

Consecutive annual dividend increases: 27

Analysts' opinion: 6 strong buy, 2 buy, 6 hold, 0 underperform, 0 sell

Roper Technologies (ROP, $379.71) - an industrial company whose businesses include medical and scientific imaging, RF technology and software, and energy systems and controls, among others - was added to the list of the best dividend stocks for income growth in 2018.

The diversified industrial company was tapped for the Dividend Aristocrats after it hiked its cash distribution for a 25th straight year at the end of 2017. Then in November 2018, ROP raised its dividend by 12% to 46.25 cents per share quarterly. The most recent hike came in November 2019, when the quarterly payout was lifted another 10.8%, to 51.25 cents per share.

A combination of acquisitions, organic growth and stronger margins have helped Roper juice its dividend without stretching its profits. With a payout ratio of just 15%, versus 40% for the S&P 500, this dividend stock should have ample room to keep the hikes coming for many years to come.

SEE ALSO: Every Warren Buffett Stock Ranked: The Berkshire Hathaway Portfolio

Sherwin-Williams

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Market value: $53.1 billion

Dividend yield: 0.8%

Consecutive annual dividend increases: 41

Analysts' opinion: 11 strong buy, 3 buy, 15 hold, 0 underperform, 1 sell

Sherwin-Williams (SHW, $574.91) is one of the largest paints, coatings and home-improvement companies in the world, thanks in large part to its $11 billion acquisition of Valspar in 2017.

The company stumbled to start 2020 when it missed Wall Street's forecast for fourth-quarter adjusted earnings per share, hurt by a stronger dollar and trade-related weakness in its international segment. But longer-term, analysts expect better-than-average profit growth. Analysts polled by S&P Global Market Intelligence expect earnings to grow at an average annual rate of almost 13% for the next five years.

Income investors certainly don't need to worry about Sherwin-Williams' steady and rising dividend stream. SHW has hiked its distribution every year since 1979, including a 31% jump in mid-February 2019, and it pays out a mere 19% of its earnings as dividends.

SEE ALSO: 20 Dividend Stocks to Fund 20 Years of Retirement

Cintas

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Market value: $29.3 billion

Dividend yield: 0.9%

Consecutive annual dividend increases: 36

Analysts' opinion: 4 strong buy, 4 buy, 5 hold, 0 underperform, 2 sell

Cintas (CTAS, $282.01) is perhaps best-known for providing corporate uniforms, but the company also offers maintenance supplies, tile and carpet cleaning services and even compliance training. As such, it's seen by some investors as a bet on jobs growth.

There may be something to that. Shares have shot 255% higher over the past five years, versus a gain of just 58% for the S&P 500. The current economic expansion has been going on for a record 10.5 years. Meanwhile, weekly jobless claims stand at levels not seen in 50 years.

Regardless of how the labor market is doing, Cintas is a stalwart as a dividend payer. The company has raised its payout every year since going public in 1983. Most recently, in October, CTAS raised its annual dividend by 24% to $2.55 per share.

SEE ALSO: The Pros' Picks: 13 Top Dividend Stocks for 2020

NEW ARISTOCRAT: Ross Stores

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Market value: $40.9 billion

Dividend yield: 0.9%

Consecutive annual dividend increases: 25

Analysts' opinion: 9 strong buy, 7 buy, 11 hold, 2 underperform, 1 sell

Ross Stores (ROST, $113.83) is an off-price apparel and home goods chain with more than 1,550 locations across 39 states, the District of Columbia and Guam; it also operates roughly 260 DD's Discounts stores across 19 states.

While Ross helps consumers save money, it has never been stingy with its dividend. The retailer has raised its payout for 25 consecutive years, landing it on the list of Dividend Aristocrats in January 2020. ROST's last hike came in March, when it lifted the quarterly payout by more than 13% to 25.5 cents per share.

Analysts expect the chain to post average annual earnings growth of more than 9% for the next three to five years. Add in a payout ratio of just 20%, and there's plenty of reason to feel good that ROST's dividend streak will go on and on.

SEE ALSO: 20 Top Stock Picks the Analysts Love for 2020

S&P Global

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Market value: $72.3 billion

Dividend yield: 0.9%

Consecutive annual dividend increases: 47

Analysts' opinion: 5 strong buy, 6 buy, 5 hold, 1 underperform, 0 sell

Formerly known as McGraw Hill Financial, S&P Global (SPGI, $295.67) is the company behind S&P Global Ratings, S&P Global Market Intelligence and S&P Global Platts. Although most investors probably know it for its majority stake in S&P Dow Jones Indices - which maintains the benchmark S&P 500 index - it's also a central player in corporate and financial analytics, information and research.

S&P Global has paid a dividend each year since 1937 and is one of fewer than 25 companies in the S&P 500 that has increased its dividend annually for at least 47 years, the company notes. Most recently, in January, SPGI raised its quarterly payout by a healthy 17.5% to 67 cents a share.

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Ecolab

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Market value: $58.1 billion

Dividend yield: 1.0%

Consecutive annual dividend increases: 28

Analysts' opinion: 5 strong buy, 1 buy, 14 hold, 1 underperform, 0 sell

Ecolab (ECL, $201.53) provides water treatment and other industrial-scale maintenance services for several industries, including food, health care, and oil and gas. Practically speaking, its products help optimize everything from offshore oil production to electronics polishing to commercial laundries.

Ecolab's fortunes can wane as industrial needs fluctuate, though; for instance, when energy companies pare spending, ECL will feel the burn.

Over the long haul, however, this Dividend Aristocrat's shares have been a proven winner. The stock has delivered an annualized return, including dividends, of 17.0% over the past decade, versus 13.8% for the S&P 500. That's thanks in no small part to 28 consecutive years of dividend increases. The company's most recent hike came in December, when ECL raised its quarterly payout by 2% to 47 cents a share.

SEE ALSO: 14 High-Yield Dividend Stocks to Buy for the 4% Rule

Brown-Forman

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Market value: $32.8 billion

Dividend yield: 1.0%

Consecutive annual dividend increases: 36

Analysts' opinion: 1 strong buy, 0 buy, 15 hold, 2 underperform, 0 sell

Brown-Forman (BF.B, $68.74) is one of the largest producers and distributors of alcohol in the world. Jack Daniel's Tennessee whiskey and Finlandia vodka are just two of its best-known brands, with the former helping drive long-term growth. Whiskey is increasingly popular with American tipplers, surveys show, and Jack Daniel's leads the pack. Tequila sales - Brown-Forman features the Herradura and El Jimador brands, among others - also are on the rise.

Unlike many of the best dividend stocks on this list, you won't have a say in corporate matters with the publicly traded BF.B shares. They hold no voting power. And most of the voting-class A shares are held by the Brown family.

Still, you can enjoy in the company's gains and dividends. That payout has been on the rise for 36 consecutive years and has been delivered without interruption for 74. Most recently, Brown-Forman upped the ante by 5% in November 2019, to 17.43 cents per share.

SEE ALSO: 10 High-Yield Monthly Dividend Stocks to Buy in 2020

Becton Dickinson

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Market value: $75.7 billion

Dividend yield: 1.2%

Consecutive annual dividend increases: 48

Analysts' opinion: 10 strong buy, 2 buy, 6 hold, 0 underperform, 0 sell

Medical devices maker Becton Dickinson (BDX, $279.31) bulked up in 2015 with its acquisition of CareFusion, a complementary player in the same industry. Then in 2017, it struck a $24 billion deal for fellow Dividend Aristocrat C.R. Bard, another medical products company with a strong position in treatments for infectious diseases.

Becton Dickinson, which makes everything from insulin syringes to cell analysis systems, is increasingly looking for growth to be driven by markets outside the U.S., including China. Analysts expect BDX to generate average annual earnings growth of 11.2% for the next five years, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence.

BDX's last hike was a 2.6% uptick announced in November 2019. Its annual dividend growth streak is nearing five decades - a track record that should offer peace of mind to antsy income investors.

SEE ALSO: 12 Dividend Stocks to Build a Monthly Income Calendar

NEW ARISTOCRAT: Expeditors International of Washington

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Market value: $12.4 billion

Dividend yield: 1.4%

Consecutive annual dividend increases: 25

Analysts' opinion: 0 strong buy, 0 buy, 10 hold, 3 underperform, 2 sell

Expeditors International of Washington (EXPD, $72.70) was added to the Aristocrats in January 2020 as it eclipsed a quarter-century of dividend growth. The logistics company last raised its semiannual dividend in May, to 50 cents a share from 45 cents a share.

EXPD shares have been under pressure recently, and the company gave a bearish outlook in mid-January. Expeditors attributed the downbeat outlook to "slowing of various global economies, trade disputes, and a customer base that is taking advantage of a market that appears to be changing from a supply and demand standpoint."

If past is prologue, however, EXPD will remain committed to its dividend. A payout ratio of just 26% should help ensure that it has ample resources to keep the streak alive.

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McCormick & Co.

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Market value: $21.7 billi­­on

Dividend yield: 1.5%

Consecutive annual dividend increases: 34

Analysts' opinion: 1 strong buy, 0 buy, 6 hold, 2 underperform, 4 sell

McCormick (MKC, $163.16) - the maker of herbs, spices and other flavorings - has been bulking up over the past three years to drive sales growth, and the deals are paying off. MKC forecasts 2020 sales growth of 2% to 4%, which isn't bad for a mature company in its sector.

Analysts expect average annual earnings growth of more than 6% for the next five years. That should provide support for McCormick's dividend, which has been paid for 95 consecutive years and raised annually for 34. Most recently, in November, the company hiked the dividend by nearly 9% to 62 cents per share.

"We remain committed to our long history of returning cash to shareholders and I am incredibly proud to announce another dividend increase," CEO Lawrence Kurzius said in a press release.

That 62-cent dividend, by the way, is double the amount it paid in 2012.

SEE ALSO: The 25 Best Canadian Dividend Stocks for U.S. Investors

Abbott Laboratories

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Market value: $154.0 billion

Dividend yield: 1.7%

Consecutive annual dividend increases: 48

Analysts' opinion: 10 strong buy, 5 buy, 4 hold, 1 underperform, 0 sell

Following its 2013 spinoff of AbbVie - another Dividend Aristocrat on this list that we'll discuss later - Abbott Laboratories (ABT, $87.06) focused on branded generic drugs, medical devices, nutrition and diagnostic products. Its product list includes the likes of Similac infant formulas, Glucerna diabetes management products and i-Stat diagnostics devices.

The company has been expanding by acquisition as of late, including medical-device firm St. Jude Medical and rapid-testing technology business Alere, both snapped up in 2017.

Abbott Labs, which dates back to 1888, first paid a dividend in 1924. Its dividend growth streak is long-lived too, at 48 years and counting. Its last payout hike came in December - a 12.5% improvement to 36 cents per share.

SEE ALSO: The Kiplinger Dividend 15: Our Favorite Dividend-Paying Stocks

PPG Industries

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Market value: $28.7 billion

Dividend yield: 1.7%

Consecutive annual dividend increases: 47

Analysts' opinion: 9 strong buy, 3 buy, 12 hold, 1 underperform, 1 sell

PPG Industries (PPG, $121.34) makes coatings and paints for numerous industries, including aerospace, architecture, automotive and packaging. It's a business that always has some level of need, but the company says 2020 could be a bit of a down because of global trade tensions and weaker demand from Boeing (BA), a major customer.

Longer-term, however, analysts remain optimistic that the company can generate steady growth.

PPG's profits are forecast to grow at an average annual rate of 6.4% for the next three to five years, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence. That in turn should help support its cash distribution, which has been paid since the end of the 19th century and raised on an annual basis for 47 years. The dividend stock last improved its payout in July 2019, when it announced a 6.3% increase to 51 cents per share.

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Dover

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Market value: $16.5 billion

Dividend yield: 1.7%

Consecutive annual dividend increases: 64

Analysts' opinion: 5 strong buy, 1 buy, 10 hold, 1 underperform, 0 sell

Dividend growth has been a priority for Dover (DOV, $113.68), which at 64 consecutive years of annual distribution hikes boasts the longest such streak among this list of top dividend stocks. Dover last raised its payout in August 2019, when it upped the quarterly dole by 2% to 49 cents a share.

The industrial conglomerate has its hands in all sorts of businesses, from Dover-branded pumps, lifts and even productivity tools for the energy business, to Anthony-branded commercial refrigerator and freezer doors.

It's not an exciting business, but it can be a remunerative one.

"Dover is focused on expanding productivity initiatives while its mergers and acquisitions pipeline remain robust," Zacks Equity Research analysts say. "It continues to create value through sustainable growth, profitability improvement, strong cash flow, smart organic and inorganic capital deployment."

SEE ALSO: 30 Massive Dividend Increases From the Past Year

Linde

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Market value: $112.5 billion

Dividend yield: 1.7%

Consecutive annual dividend increases: 26

Analysts' opinion: 10 strong buy, 3 buy, 6 hold, 2 underperform, 1 sell

Linde (LIN, $209.44) became a Dividend Aristocrat in late 2018 after it completed its merger with Praxair, which itself was added to the illustrious list of the S&P 500's best dividend stocks for income growth in January 2018. The $90 billion tie-up of Linde and Praxair created the world's largest industrial gasses company.

Praxair raised its dividend for 25 consecutive years before its merger, and the combined company is expected to continue to be a steady dividend payer. Prior to the merger, Linde, now headquartered in Dublin, raised its dividend every year since 2014. Its most recent hike was in late February 2019 - a 6% bump to 87.5 cents per share.

Analysts project the multinational industrial firm's profits to increase at an average annual rate of almost 11% over the next three to five years, according to a survey by S&P Global Market Intelligence. A payout ratio of just 31% also gives Linde plenty of breathing room for future dividend growth.

SEE ALSO: Apple Stock: The Dividend Investor's Guide

Stanley Black & Decker

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Market value: $24.5 billion

Dividend yield: 1.7%

Consecutive annual dividend increases: 52

Analysts' opinion: 8 strong buy, 4 buy, 9 hold, 0 underperform, 0 sell

Power- and hand-toolmaker Stanley Black & Decker (SWK, $160.87) has paid a dividend for 143 years on an uninterrupted basis, and it has improved that cash distribution annually for more than half a century, including a 4.5% increase to 69 cents per share in July 2019.

But Stanley isn't just some sleepy income stock. Analysts expect SWK to generate average annual earnings growth of nearly 9% a year over the next half-decade, thanks to a strategy of growth through acquisitions and cost cuts.

Stanley Black & Decker bought Newell Tools - which includes the Lenox and Irwin brands - from Newell Brands (NWL) for $2 billion in 2016. In January 2017, it negotiated the purchase of the Craftsman tool brand from Sears Holdings (SHLDQ) for a total of $775 million over three years and a percentage of annual sales. Then in 2018, SWK announced the acquisition of IES Attachments for $690 million cash, and the $440 million purchase of Nelson Fastener Systems.

Stanley still is making deals in 2020, announcing in January that it would buy Boeing-supplier Consolidated Aerospace Manufacturing for up to $1.5 billion.

Pentair

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Market value: $7.3 billion

Dividend yield: 1.8%

Consecutive annual dividend increases: 44

Analysts' opinion: 4 strong buy, 2 buy, 11 hold, 2 underperform, 0 sell

U.K.-based diversified industrial company Pentair (PNR, $43.36) completed the tax-free spinoff of nVent Electric (NVT ) in 2017, allowing the company to focus on its water assets, operating in businesses such as Flow Technologies, Filtration & Process and Aquatic & Environmental Systems. It bulked up those operations with its January 2019 acquisition of Aquion for $160 million in cash.

Pentair has raised its dividend annually for 44 straight years, most recently by 5.6% to 19 cents a quarter. Analysts on average project long-term earnings growth of 6.6% a year, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence. That, as well as a modest payout ratio of 34%, bode well for future dividend growth.

SEE ALSO: 13 Super Small-Cap Stocks to Buy for 2020 and Beyond

NEW ARISTOCRAT: Albemarle

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Market value: $8.6 billion

Dividend yield: 1.8%

Consecutive annual dividend increases: 25

Analysts' opinion: 7 strong buy, 3 buy, 9 hold, 2 underperform, 2 sell

Albemarle (ALB, $80.79) which manufacturers specialty chemicals such as lithium, was tapped to join the Dividend Aristocrats in January, having secured a streak of 25 years of dividend increases in 2019.

Albemarle's products work entirely behind the scenes, but its chemicals go to work in a number of industries, from clean-fuel technologies to pharmaceuticals to fire safety.

The chemicals giant last hiked its dividend in late February 2019, by 10% to 36.75 cents a share. Investors expect another hike this year. After all, with a payout of less than 30%, ALB certainly has the financial resources.

"Providing our shareholders with a dividend increase every year for the past quarter of a century places Albemarle among a select group of companies," CEO Luke Kissam said in a statement. "We are confident in the future of Albemarle and remain dedicated to generating shareholder return through our dividend and business growth."

Walmart

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Market value: $324.2 billion

Dividend yield: 1.9%

Consecutive annual dividend increases: 45

Analysts' opinion: 13 strong buy, 7 buy, 13 hold, 1 underperform, 0 sell

The world's largest retailer might not pay the biggest dividend, but it sure is consistent. Walmart (WMT, $114.27) has been delivering meager penny increases to its dividend since 2014, including 2019's bump to 53 cents per share. But that has been enough to maintain its 45-year streak of consecutive annual payout hikes.

Walmart boasts nearly 5,400 stores across different formats in the U.S., not to mention another 5,800 stores across dozens more banners in 26 other countries.

But while Walmart is a brick-and-mortar business, it's not conceding the e-commerce race to Amazon.com (AMZN ). For its third-quarter, WMT reported a 41% increase in U.S. e-commerce sales, driven by its online grocery business. Market research firm eMarketer notes that Walmart eclipsed Apple (AAPL ) as the third-largest online retailer at the end of 2018. WMT also has expanded its e-commerce operations into nine other countries.

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Medtronic

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Market value: $158.2 billion

Dividend yield: 1.9%

Consecutive annual dividend increases: 42

Analysts' opinion: 14 strong buy, 5 buy, 7 hold, 0 underperform, 0 sell

Medtronic (MDT, $117.99), one of the world's largest makers of medical devices, is an income machine. Most recently, in June, MDT lifted its quarterly payout by 8% to 54 cents a share. Its dividend per share has grown by 77% over the past half-decade and has grown at a 17% compounded annual growth rate over the past 42 years, Medtronic says.

MDT aims to return a minimum of 50 % of its free cash flow to shareholders through dividends and share repurchases. The company can steer all this cash back to shareholders thanks to the ubiquity of its products.

Medtronic also spends heavily in research and development, including $2.3 billion in 2019. As a result, it holds more than 47,000 patents on products ranging from insulin pumps for diabetics to stents used by cardiac surgeons. Look around a hospital or doctor's office - in the U.S. or in more than 160 other countries - and there's a good chance you'll see its products.

Lowe's

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Market value: $89.8 billion

Dividend yield: 1.9%

Consecutive annual dividend increases: 57

Analysts' opinion: 16 strong buy, 7 buy, 9 hold, 1 underperform, 0 sell

When it comes to home improvement chains, Home Depot (HD), a member of the Dow Jones Industrial Average, gets all the glory. But rival Lowe's (LOW, $117.18) is the superior dividend grower.

Lowe's has paid a cash distribution every quarter since going public in 1961, and that dividend has increased annually for more than half a century. Most recently, in May 2019, Lowe's announced that it would lift its quarterly payout by 14.5% to 55 cents a share. Home Depot is a longtime dividend payer, too, but its string of annual dividend increases dates back only to 2010.

Analysts expect Lowe's to deliver average annual earnings growth of more than 15% for the next five years, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence, which should help keep the dividend aloft.

SEE ALSO: Dogs of the Dow 2020: 10 Dividend Stocks to Watch

W.W. Grainger

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Market value: $16.3 billion

Dividend yield: 1.9%

Consecutive annual dividend increases: 48

Analysts' opinion: 3 strong buy, 0 buy, 16 hold, 1 underperform, 1 sell

W.W. Grainger (GWW, $303.23) - which not only sells industrial equipment and tools, but provides other services such as helping companies manage inventory - is expected to generate steady-if-not spectacular sales growth for the next few years. Analysts forecast the company to have a long-term earnings growth rate of 9.8%

Fortunately for the income-minded, Grainger has achieved annual dividend growth for nearly half a century and maintains a comfortable 31% payout ratio. It renewed its Dividend Aristocrats membership card in April 2019, when it announced a 6% dividend increase to $1.44 per share.

United Technologies

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Market value: $129.4 billion

Dividend yield: 2.0%

Consecutive annual dividend increases: 26

Analysts' opinion: 10 strong buy, 4 buy, 5 hold, 0 underperform, 1 sell

United Technologies (UTX, $149.95) was added the Dividend Aristocrats in January 2019. The industrial conglomerate - whose businesses include Collins Aerospace, Pratt & Whitney aircraft engines, Otis elevators and Carrier cooling systems - has raised its dividend annually for 26 consecutive years.

But this year will be a transitional one for UTX, which expects to eventually break into three separate, independent companies: United Technologies, which will consist of Collins and Pratt & Whitney; Otis; and Carrier.

Also, note that UTX's quarterly dividend amount was stagnant in 2019. That's because it's splitting. UTX has pledged that the dividends from the three firms will add up to at least 73.5 cents a share.

The Dow Jones stock has paid cash dividends on its common stock every year since 1936.

SEE ALSO: 10 Best Consumer Staples Stocks to Buy for 2020

NEW ARISTOCRAT: Atmos Energy

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Market value: $14.5 billion

Dividend yield: 2.0%

Consecutive annual dividend increases: 25

Analysts' opinion: 3 strong buy, 3 buy, 4 hold, 2 underperform, 0 sell

Atmos Energy (ATO, $118.67), which distributes and stores natural gas, was added to the Dividend Aristocrats in January 2020. The Dallas-headquartered firm serves more than 3 million customers across eight states, with a large presence in Texas and Louisiana.

Atmos clinched its 25th year of dividend growth in November 2019, when it announced a 9.5% increase to 57.5 cents per quarter.

"The company has a sturdy capital expenditure policy in place, helping it enhance the safety and reliability profile of its natural gas pipeline," notes Zacks Equity Research. Analysts surveyed by S&P Global Market Intelligence forecast average annual earnings growth of 6.2% over the next three to five years. But for dividend stocks in the utility sector, that's just fine.

Chubb

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Market value: $69.4 billion

Dividend yield: 2.0%

Consecutive annual dividend increases: 26

Analysts' opinion: 4 strong buy, 5 buy, 9 hold, 2 underperform, 2 sell

Chubb (CB, $153.23) was added to the Dividend Aristocrats in January 2019. The insurance company last raised its payout in May, by 2.7% to 75 cents a share. With that move, Chubb notched its 26th consecutive year of dividend growth.

As the world's largest publicly traded property and casualty insurance company, Chubb boasts operations in 54 countries and territories. It's not the most exciting topic for dinner conversation, but it's a profitable business that supports a longstanding dividend.

The company's payout ratio stands at just 37% of earnings, so income investors can expect Chubb to remain among the Dividend Aristocrats for years to come.

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Hormel Foods

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Market value: $25.4 billion

Dividend yield: 2.0%

Consecutive annual dividend increases: 54

Analysts' opinion: 0 strong buy, 1 buy, 8 hold, 3 underperform, 1 sell

Hormel Foods (HRL, $47.43) is about as reliable as they come when it comes to income investing. The packaged food company best known for Spam - but also responsible for its namesake-branded meats and chili, Skippy peanut butter, Dinty Moore stews and House of Tsang sauces - has raised its annual payout every year for more than five decades.

Indeed, in November, Hormel announced its 54th consecutive annual dividend increase - a nearly 11% raise to 23.25 cents a share. The payment, to be made Feb. 18 to shareholders of record as of Jan. 13, will be the 366th consecutive quarterly dividend paid by the company.

Hormel is rightly proud to note that it has paid a regular quarterly dividend without interruption since becoming a public company in 1928. Meeting analyst expectations - which currently are for about 4.1% average annual profit growth for the next five years - would go a long way toward keeping that streak alive.

Aflac

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Market value: $38.2 billion

Dividend yield: 2.1%

Consecutive annual dividend increases: 37

Analysts' opinion: 1 strong buy, 2 buy, 8 hold, 1 underperform, 2 sell

Aflac (AFL, $52.01) is a supplemental insurance company - popularized by the loud Aflac duck - with roots going back to 1955 that covers numerous workplace offerings, such as accident, short-term disability and life insurance.

A year ago, Aflac lifted its dividend for a 37th consecutive year, this time by 3.8% to 27 cents per share. It also pledged to buy back $1.3 billion to $1.7 billion of its own stock in 2019. Investors expect AFL to raise its dividend for a 38th consecutive year as part of its fourth-quarter earnings report, slated for release after the Feb. 4 closing bell.

Analysts expect Aflac to generate average earnings growth of 3.4% a year for the next five years, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence. A thin 26% payout ratio bolsters the future dividend growth case, too.

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Automatic Data Processing

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Market value: $75.1 billion

Dividend yield: 2.1%

Consecutive annual dividend increases: 45

Analysts' opinion: 4 strong buy, 2 buy, 13 hold, 1 underperform, 0 sell

Automatic Data Processing (ADP, $173.94) is the world's largest payroll processing firm, responsible for paying nearly 40 million employees and serving more than 810,000 clients across 140 countries.

One of ADP's great advantages is its "stickiness." It's difficult and expensive for corporate customers to change payroll service providers. That competitive advantage helps throw off consistent income and cash flow. In turn, ADP has become a dependable dividend payer - one that has provided an annual raise for shareholders since 1975.

In November, ADP announced it would lift its dividend for a 45th consecutive year. The new payout of 91 cents per share is more than 15% fatter than the previous amount.

Cincinnati Financial

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Market value: $17.4 billion

Dividend yield: 2.1%

Consecutive annual dividend increases: 59

Analysts' opinion: 1 strong buy, 1 buy, 5 hold, 1 underperform, 1 sell

Cincinnati Financial (CINF, $106.31) boasts one of the Dividend Aristocrats' longest streaks of consecutive annual dividend increases. Indeed, on Jan. 31, the property and casualty insurer lifted its payout for a 60th straight year. The company improved its quarterly dividend by 5.7%, to 56 cents per share.

Income investors can expect more where that came from. Over the 12 months ended Sept. 30, CINF generated free cash flow of $633 million while spending $350 million on dividends. It has breathing room.

It might need some of that room, too, given lean earnings estimates. Cincinnati Financial, whose offerings include life insurance, annuities, umbrella insurance and a wide range of business insurance products, is expected to average just 1.9% annual profit growth over the next five years, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence data.

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Sysco

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Market value: $39.1 billion

Dividend yield: 2.2%

Consecutive annual dividend increases: 51

Analysts' opinion: 2 strong buy, 3 buy, 9 hold, 1 underperform, 1 sell

Sysco (SYY, $76.68), a food services and restaurant supply company, is generating sales growth by making acquisitions.

In January 2019, SYY bought Waugh Foods - an Illinois broadline distributor with approximately $40 million in annual sales. The company also picked up Upsys, J. Kings Food Service Professionals, and J&M Wholesale Meats last year. Other notable moves include SYY's 2016 deal for European services and supplies company Brakes Group, as well as the Supplies on the Fly e-commerce platform that same year. In February 2018, it picked up Doerle Food Services, a Louisiana broadline distributor with approximately $250 million in annual foodservice distribution sales.

However, Sysco has been able to generate plenty of growth on its own, too. The combination of organic and M&A-based growth has produced a steady ramp-up in revenues for years. Analysts, meanwhile, expect average earnings growth of 11.3% annually over the next half-decade.

That should allow Sysco to maintain its spot among the best dividend stocks for payout growth. SYY's streak currently sits at half a century and includes a 15% hike to 45 cents per share, announced in November 2019.

Air Products & Chemicals

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Market value: $53.6 billion

Dividend yield: 2.3%

Consecutive annual dividend increases: 38

Analysts' opinion: 7 strong buy, 6 buy, 12 hold, 0 underperform, 0 sell

Air Products & Chemicals (APD, $243.01) spent much of the past few years restructuring. Under pressure from investors, it started to shed some weight, including spinning off its Electronic Materials division and selling its Performance Materials business.

Air Products, which dates back to 1940, now is a slimmer company that has returned to focusing on its legacy industrial gases business. But it hasn't taken its eye off the dividend, which it has improved on an annual basis for 38 years in a row. That includes a 15.5% upgrade to be paid in May - the largest increase in company history.

"The board's decision to increase the dividend by over 15% reflects continued confidence in Air Products' strong financial position and cash flows," the company said in a news release. "In fiscal 2019, we paid nearly $1 billion dollars of dividends to our shareholders."

SEE ALSO: The 10 Best Vanguard Funds for 2020

A.O. Smith

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Market value: $6.9 billion

Dividend yield: 2.3%

Consecutive annual dividend increases: 27

Analysts' opinion: 3 strong buy, 0 buy, 8 hold, 1 underperform, 0 sell

A.O. Smith (AOS, $42.28), a manufacturer of commercial and residential water heaters, is a relatively recent addition to the Dividend Aristocrats, entering the club in 2018. In October 2019, it announced a 9% raise in its quarterly payout to 24 cents a share. AOS noted at the time that its five-year compound annual dividend growth rate was 24%.

Analysts expect the company's earnings to rise at a rate of 8% a year for the next five years, helped by the rollout of A.O. Smith water heaters at home-improvement chain Lowe's, as well as strength across the North American market.

A.O. Smith has increased its dividend annually for 27 consecutive years.

T. Rowe Price Group

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Market value: $31.4 billion

Dividend yield: 2.3%

Consecutive annual dividend increases: 33

Analysts' opinion: 6 strong buy, 1 buy, 9 hold, 2 underperform, 0 sell

Asset managers such as T. Rowe Price (TROW, $134.52) have been losing market share to indexed funds of the type Vanguard offers, but the company still boasts $1.2 trillion in assets under management, and analysts expect solid top-line growth in the current fiscal year. Aided by advising fees, the company is forecast to post a 10% gain in sales this year, according to data from S&P Global Market Intelligence.

T. Rowe Price has improved its dividend every year for 33 years, and it boasts a lean 33.9% payout ratio that should keep the annual hikes coming. The company last raised its distribution on Feb. 13, 2019, by 8.6% to 76 cents per share; another hike should be coming soon if T. Rowe sticks to its typical dividend schedule.

SEE ALSO: European Dividend Aristocrats: 41 Top-Flight International Dividend Stocks

VF Corp.

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Market value: $33.1 billion

Dividend yield: 2.3%

Consecutive annual dividend increases: 47

Analysts' opinion: 10 strong buy, 6 buy, 9 hold, 1 underperform, 0 sell

VF Corp. (VFC, $82.91) is an apparel company with a large number of brands under its umbrella, including The North Face outdoor products, Timberland boots and Eastpak backpacks. It added to its brand portfolio with the acquisition of Icebreaker Holdings - another outdoor and sport designer - under undisclosed terms in April 2018.

Analysts expect average annual earnings growth of 13.4% for the next five years from this transforming company. In addition to picking up Icebreaker, the company also spun off Kontoor Brands (KTB ), which includes Lee and Wrangler jeans, in 2019.

The company's dividend technically fell last year, from 51 cents per share to 43 cents, before growing back to 48 cents per share - put the dip was an adjustment to account for the Kontoor spinoff. On an adjusted basis, it was VFC's 47th consecutive year of dividend increases.

KTB, which was spun off to shareholders in May, has a quarterly dividend of 56 cents a share that yields 5.7% at current prices.

Colgate-Palmolive

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Market value: $64.2 billion

Dividend yield: 2.3%

Consecutive annual dividend increases: 57

Analysts' opinion: 5 strong buy, 2 buy, 13 hold, 1 underperform, 1 sell

Colgate-Palmolive (CL, $74.93) sells a wide range of consumers staples brands including its namesake toothpaste and dish soap, as well as Speed Stick deodorant, Murphy cleaning products and Tom's of Maine personal-care products. Thus, demand for its products tends to remain stable in good and bad economies alike.

The company derives the vast majority of its sales outside the U.S., and that has been a problem of late. A stronger dollar, stagnant demand in key overseas markets and higher input costs made for an underwhelming 2019.

But Colgate's dividend - which dates back more than a century, to 1895, and has increased annually for 57 years - should survive. CL last raised its quarterly payment in March 2019, when it added 2.4% to 43 cents a share. Its dividend longevity might make Colgate worth a look once the global picture improves and revenue picks up.

SEE ALSO: The 10 Best Value Stocks to Buy for 2020

General Dynamics

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Market value: $51.2 billion

Dividend yield: 2.3%

Consecutive annual dividend increases: 27

Analysts' opinion: 7 strong buy, 2 buy, 10 hold, 0 underperform, 1 sell

Defense contractor General Dynamics (GD, $176.62) is one of the newer members of the Dividend Aristocrats, having been added to the elite list of dividend growers in 2017.

Generous military spending has helped fuel this dividend stock's steady stream of cash returned to shareholders. In August, the U.S. General Services Administration and the Defense Department awarded GD a $7.6 billion cloud contract. More recently, in December, the Pentagon awarded General Dynamics a $300 million U.S. defense contract to modernize and maintain the Navy's ballistic-missile submarine fire control systems.

General Dynamics has upped its distribution for 27 consecutive years. The last raise was announced in March 2019, when GD lifted the quarterly payout by 9.7% to $1.02 a share. With a payout ratio of 26%, General Dynamics should have ample room for more dividend growth.

McDonald's

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Market value: $162.1 billion

Dividend yield: 2.3%

Consecutive annual dividend increases: 43

Analysts' opinion: 17 strong buy, 8 buy, 9 hold, 0 underperform, 0 sell

The world's largest hamburger chain also happens to be a dividend stalwart. Changing consumer tastes will always be a risk, but McDonald's (MCD, $215.18) dividend dates back to 1976 and has gone up every year since. That's the power of being a consumer giant that has been able to adjust itself to changing consumer tastes without losing its core.

Including dividends, McDonald's - a component of the Dow Jones Industrial Average - has generated a total return of 163% over the past five years. That beats the S&P 500 by about 88 percentage points.

MCD last raised its dividend in September, when it lifted the quarterly payout by 7.8% to $1.25 a share. That marked its 43 consecutive annual increase.

SEE ALSO: 43 Companies Amazon Could Destroy (Including One for a Second Time)

Target

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Market value: $57.0 billion

Dividend yield: 2.4%

Consecutive annual dividend increases: 48

Analysts' opinion: 13 strong buy, 6 buy, 10 hold, 1 underperform, 0 sell

Target (TGT, $112.51) might be the No. 2 discount retail chain after Walmart in terms of revenue, but it doesn't take a back seat to the behemoth from Bentonville when it comes to dividends.

Target paid its first dividend in 1967, seven years ahead of Walmart, and has raised its payout annually since 1972. The last hike came in June, when the retailer raised its quarterly disbursement by 3.1% to 66 cents a share.

With a payout ratio of 38%, income investors can count on Target to keep hitting the mark for dividend growth. As for earnings growth: Analysts are looking for an average annual improvement of about 8.9% through the end of 2024 - not bad at all for a brick-and-mortar player.

Procter & Gamble

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Market value: $309.0 billion

Dividend yield: 2.4%

Consecutive annual dividend increases: 63

Analysts' opinion: 7 strong buy, 4 buy, 10 hold, 2 underperform, 0 sell

With major brands such as Tide detergent, Pampers diapers and Gillette razors, Procter & Gamble (PG, $125.11) is among the world's largest consumer products companies. Although the economy ebbs and flows, demand for products such as toilet paper, toothpaste and soap tends to remain stable. At the moment, Procter & Gamble boasts 23 brands that generate at least $1 billion in annual revenues - and another 14 with sales of between $500 million and $1 billion.

That hardly makes P&G completely recession-proof, but it has helped fuel reliable dividend payments for more than a century. The Dow component has paid shareholders a dividend since 1890, and has raised its dividend annually for 63 years in a row. P&G last increased its payout in April 2019, by 4% to 74.6 cents per share.

SEE ALSO: The 10 Best REITs to Buy for 2020

Illinois Tool Works

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Market value: $56.7 billion

Dividend yield: 2.5%

Consecutive annual dividend increases: 56

Analysts' opinion: 3 strong buy, 0 buy, 12 hold, 3 underperform, 4 sell

Founded in 1912, Illinois Tool Works (ITW, $176.46) makes construction products, car parts, restaurant equipment and more. While ITW sells many products under its namesake brand, it also operates businesses including Foster Refrigerators, ACME Packaging Systems and the Wolf Range Company.

In August, Illinois Tool Works raised its quarterly dividend 7% to $1.07 cents a share. ITW says it returned $2.8 billion to shareholders in the form of dividends and share repurchases in 2019.

ITW has improved its dividend for 56 straight years. Its payout ratio of 54% is higher than many of the companies we've already covered, but it still leaves decent headroom for modest but steady increases for years to come.

NEW ARISTOCRAT: Essex Property Trust

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Market value: $20.6 billion

Dividend yield: 2.5%

Consecutive annual dividend increases: 25

Analysts' opinion: 5 strong buy, 5 buy, 14 hold, 1 underperform, 0 sell

Essex Property Trust (ESS, $311.39) is another new addition to the Dividend Aristocrats for 2020. The real estate investment trust (REITs), which invests in apartments, primarily on the West Coast, became publicly traded in 1994 and has been hiking its payout ever since.

The most recent increase came in February 2019, when ESS lifted the quarterly dividend roughly 5% to $1.95 per share. Investors are expecting another raise in February 2020.

Although the dividend is what makes ESS stand out, it can please investors with price appreciation too. It's still early, but shares are beating the S&P 500 so far in 2020 - and over the past decade, Essex is beating the index by 93 percentage points on a price basis alone.

SEE ALSO: How to Invest in Commercial Real Estate (CRE) Right Now

Johnson & Johnson

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Market value: $395.2 billion

Dividend yield: 2.6%

Consecutive annual dividend increases: 57

Analysts' opinion: 6 strong buy, 5 buy, 6 hold, 1 underperform, 0 sell

Johnson & Johnson (JNJ, $150.17), founded in 1886 and public since 1944, operates in several different segments of the health-care industry. In addition to pharmaceuticals, it makes over-the-counter consumer products such as Band-Aids, Neosporin and Listerine. It also manufactures medical devices used in surgery.

The Dow component is currently rushing to develop a vaccine for coronavirus - the pneumonia-like disease spreading rapidly in China. Although that won't be a money-gusher anytime soon, it won't affect those who count on JNJ's steady dividends. The health-care giant last hiked its payout in April 2019, by 5.6% to 95 cents per share, extending its streak of consecutive annual dividend growth to 57 years.

That should continue if J&J can keep growing its earnings; Wall Street's pros expect it to, at a clip of 6.9% annually on average over the next half-decade.

PepsiCo

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Market value: $198.7 billion

Dividend yield: 2.7%

Consecutive annual dividend increases: 47

Analysts' opinion: 6 strong buy, 1 buy, 12 hold, 2 underperform, 0 sell

Like Coca-Cola, PepsiCo (PEP, $142.51) is working against a long-term slide in soda sales. It too has responded by expanding its offerings of non-carbonated beverages. One advantage Pepsi has that rival Coca-Cola doesn't is its foods business - the company owns Frito-Lay snacks such as Doritos, Tostitos and Rold Gold pretzels, and demand for salty snacks remains solid.

Last year, Pepsi struck deals to buy BFY Brands, the maker of PopCorners snacks, and South Africa-based Pioneer Foods, to widen its reach in the snacks industry.

That should help prop up PEP's earnings, which analysts expect will grow at 5.8% annually on average over the next five years. That should help the company continue its dividend growth streak, which reached 57 years last February thanks to a 3% hike to 95.5 cents per share.

SEE ALSO: The 7 Best Bond Funds for Retirement Savers in 2020

Clorox

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Market value: $19.6 billion

Dividend yield: 2.7%

Consecutive annual dividend increases: 42

Analysts' opinion: 1 strong buy, 1 buy, 9 hold, 4 underperform, 2 sell

Clorox (CLX, $155.84), whose brands include its namesake bleaches, Glad trash bags and Hidden Valley salad dressing, has been weighed down of late by higher costs for raw materials, manufacturing and logistics. The headwinds have hit the company's bags and wraps business, as well as its charcoal unit, particularly hard. Unfavorable foreign exchange is also hurting results.

Although there's no telling when CLX will emerge from these challenges, something that has never been in doubt is the dividend. Clorox has increased its payout every year since 1977, most recently in May 2019 when it climbed 10.4% to $1.06 per share.

A payout ratio of roughly two-thirds of Clorox's earnings signals that future payout increases might be a little more modest, but the dividend appears plenty safe.

Coca-Cola

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Market value: $250.7 billion

Dividend yield: 2.7%

Consecutive annual dividend increases: 57

Analysts' opinion: 9 strong buy, 5 buy, 8 hold, 1 underperform, 0 sell

Coca-Cola (KO, $58.58) has long been known for quenching consumers' thirst, but it's equally effective at quenching investors' thirst for income. The company's dividend history stretches back to 1920, and the payout has swelled for 57 consecutive years. The last hike, announced in February 2019, was admittedly modest, though, at 2.6% to 40 cents per share.

With the U.S. market for carbonated beverages on the decline for more than a decade, according to market research, Coca-Cola has responded by adding bottled water, fruit juices and teas to its product lineup to keep the cash flowing. In addition to the namesake Coca-Cola brand, KO also sports names such as Minute Maid, Powerade, Simply Orange and Vitaminwater.

The latest big-name deal made by Coca-Cola came in 2018, when it acquired Costa Limited, which owns the popular Costa Coffee brand that operates in more than 30 countries. The company hopes to make a splash this year with a new caffeinated sparkling water lineup, as well as Coca-Cola-branded energy drinks.

SEE ALSO: The 30 Best Mutual Funds in 401(k) Retirement Plans

Emerson Electric

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Market value: $44.4 billion

Dividend yield: 2.8%

Consecutive annual dividend increases: 63

Analysts' opinion: 6 strong buy, 4 buy, 14 hold, 0 underperform, 1 sell

Emerson Electric (EMR, $72.60) makes a wide variety of industrial products, ranging from control valves to electrical fittings.

The prolonged downturn in oil prices weighed on Emerson for a couple years as energy companies continued to cut back on spending. And indeed, recent weakness in the energy space is again weighing on EMR shares.

Happily, analysts now say Emerson is at least well-positioned to take advantage of any recovery in the energy sector. And they're forecasting decent earnings growth of about 7.2% annually on average over the next three to five years.

Emerson has paid dividends since 1956 and has boosted its annual payout for 63 consecutive years, including its last increase - 2% to 50 cents per share - in November 2019. In the 12 months ended Sept. 30, EMR returned $1.2 billion to shareholders through dividends, and another $1.25 billion in stock buybacks.

Kimberly-Clark

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Market value: $49.1 billion

Dividend yield: 3.0%

Consecutive annual dividend increases: 48

Analysts' opinion: 2 strong buy, 3 buy, 9 hold, 1 underperform, 2 sell

Kimberly-Clark's (KMB, $143.78) well-known brands include Huggies diapers, Scott paper towels and Kleenex tissues. Like other makers of consumer staples, Kimberly-Clark holds out the promise of delivering slow but steady growth along with a healthy dividend to drive total returns.

Kimberly-Clark has paid out a dividend for 84 consecutive years, and has raised the annual payout for nearly half a century. In January, KMB announced a 3.9% increase in the quarterly dividend, to $1.07 per share. The company notes that in 2019, it generated $425 million in cost savings and returned $2.2 billion to shareholders through dividends and share repurchases.

Analysts polled by S&P Global Market Intelligence expect KMB earnings to grow at an average annual rate of 6.5% over the next five years.

SEE ALSO: The 25 Best Mutual Funds of All Time

Caterpillar

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Market value: $71.7 billion

Dividend yield: 3.1%

Consecutive annual dividend increases: 26

Analysts' opinion: 6 strong buy, 5 buy, 12 hold, 1 underperform, 2 sell

Caterpillar (CAT, $129.77), the world's largest maker of heavy construction and mining equipment, was added to the Dividend Aristocrats in January 2019.

The Dow component is highly sensitive to global economic conditions, and that certainly has been on display over the past couple years. Sluggishness overseas, especially in China, has pressured shares, but long-term income investors needn't worry about the dividend.

Caterpillar has lifted its payout every year for 26 years. CAT's quarterly cash dividend has more than doubled since 2009, and it has paid a regular dividend without fail since 1933. Moreover, its $1.03-per-share dividend - almost 20% higher than where it was a year ago - accounts for just 34% of its profits.

Archer-Daniels-Midland

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Market value: $25.0 billion

Dividend yield: 3.2%

Consecutive annual dividend increases: 46

Analysts' opinion: 6 strong buy, 2 buy, 5 hold, 0 underperform, 1 sell

Archer Daniels Midland (ADM, $44.96) processes ingredients for food and feed, including corn sweeteners, starches and emulsifiers such as lecithin. It also has a commodities trading business. It's a truly global agricultural powerhouse, too, boasting customers in 170 countries that are served by 450 crop procurement locations, as well as more than 330 ingredient plants.

But it's a slow-growth business, too. Analysts surveyed by S&P Global Market Intelligence expect ADM's earnings to rise at an average annual rate of just 6% for the next five years.

Archer Daniels Midland has paid out dividends on an uninterrupted basis for 88 years. On Jan. 30, ADM raised its quarterly dividend by a little less than 3% to 35 cents per share, marking its 46th consecutive year of dividend hikes.

SEE ALSO: 10 High-Quality, High-Growth Stocks to Buy

Consolidated Edison

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Market value: $31.2 billion

Dividend yield: 3.3%

Consecutive annual dividend increases: 46

Analysts' opinion: 2 strong buy, 0 buy, 9 hold, 5 underperform, 3 sell

Consolidated Edison (ED, $93.85) is one of the nation's largest utility stocks by market value. Founded in 1823, it provides electric, gas and steam service for the 10 million customers in New York City and Westchester County. And like most utilities, Consolidated Edison enjoys a fairly stable stream of revenues and income thanks to a dearth of direct competition.

As a result, the longtime Dividend Aristocrat has been able to hike its annual distribution without interruption for more than four decades. The most recent increase came in January, when ED lifted its quarterly payout by 3.4% to 76.5 cents per share.

Genuine Parts

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Market value: $13.7 billion

Dividend yield: 3.3%

Consecutive annual dividend increases: 63

Analysts' opinion: 2 strong buy, 0 buy, 12 hold, 1 underperform, 0 sell

Automotive and industrial replacement parts maker Genuine Parts (GPC, $94.30) is best-known for the Napa brand. However, it also has deep roots in Mexico, where it operates under the AutoTodo brand, as well as Canada, where it operates as UAP.

Since its founding in 1928, Genuine Parts has pursued a strategy of acquisitions to fuel growth. In July 2019, it bought Todd Group, a French distributor of truck parts and accessories for the heavy-duty market.

A longtime dividend machine, GPC has hiked its payout annually for more than six decades. That includes a nearly 6% improvement to its distribution, to 76.25 cents per share, announced on Feb. 18, 2019. In other words: Another dividend hike should be on its way shortly.

SEE ALSO: The 15 Best Recession-Resistant Stocks to Buy

Federal Realty Investment Trust

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Market value: $9.4 billion

Dividend yield: 3.4%

Consecutive annual dividend increases: 52

Analysts' opinion: 9 strong buy, 3 buy, 7 hold, 0 underperform, 0 sell

Real estate investment trusts such as Federal Realty Investment Trust (FRT, $125.07) are required to pay out at least 90% of their taxable earnings as dividends in exchange for certain tax benefits. Thus, REITs are well known as some of the best dividend stocks you can buy.

Few have been steadier than FRT.

Federal Realty Investment Trust - which owns retail and mixed-use real estate across 12 states, as well as the District of Columbia - has now hiked its payout every year for more than half a century. FRT has registered roughly 59% dividend growth over the past decade, including a 2.9% improvement to the cash distribution announced in June 2019.

Leggett & Platt

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Market value: $6.2 billion

Dividend yield: 3.4%

Consecutive annual dividend increases: 48

Analysts' opinion: 0 strong buy, 0 buy, 7 hold, 0 underperform, 0 sell

Leggett & Platt (LEG, $46.96) has its hands in several pies, including producing steel wire; designing and manufacturing seating support systems for automobiles; and making components for manufacturers of upholstered furniture, beds and other home furnishings.

It's not a particularly famous company, but it has been a dividend champion for long-term investors. Leggett & Platt's payout has gotten better for 48 consecutive years and in 56 of the past 57 years. Most recently, LEG announced a 5.3% improvement, to 40 cents per share, in May 2019.

A somewhat elevated payout ratio of 70% indicates that future dividend increases might be modest, however.

SEE ALSO: The Best T. Rowe Price Funds for 401(k) Retirement Savers

Nucor

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Market value: $14.5 billion

Dividend yield: 3.4%

Consecutive annual dividend increases: 47

Analysts' opinion: 6 strong buy, 3 buy, 4 hold, 1 underperform, 2 sell

Shareholders in Nucor (NUE, $47.94), the largest U.S. steelmaker, see 2020 as the year in which business gets back to normal after a few years of turbulence due slower global growth and tariffs.

Whatever may come, investors have plenty of proof that Nucor is dedicated to growing its dividend. Nucor has increased its payout for 47 consecutive years, or every year since it first began paying dividends in 1973. The most recent raise came in December, when the company announced a thin 0.6% improvement in its dividend, to 40.25 cents per share, for the distribution to be made Feb. 11.

Nucor has returned approximately $6 billion in cash to its stockholders in the form of dividends and share repurchases over the past decade, the company says.

NEW ARISTOCRAT: Realty Income

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Market value: $25.5 billion

Dividend yield: 3.6%

Consecutive annual dividend increases: 25

Analysts' opinion: 7 strong buy, 1 buy, 11 hold, 1 underperform, 0 sell

Realty Income (O, $78.20) is another REIT that investors can rely on for steady income, but there's another aspect to this stock that might suit certain income investors: Realty Income is a rare breed of monthly dividend stocks.

The company owns more than 5,900 commercial real estate properties that are leased out to more than 270 tenants - including Walgreens, 7-Eleven, FedEx (FDX) and Dollar General (DG) - operating in 49 industries. These are mostly retail-focused businesses with strong financial health.

Realty Income generates very predictable cash flow thanks to the long-term nature of its leases, which should keep the monthly dividend payments coming. Indeed, O shares have delivered more than 590 consecutive monthly dividends to date, including 89 consecutive quarterly increases. The current 23.25-cent distribution is about 3% larger than it was a year ago.

SEE ALSO: The Best Fidelity Funds for 401(k) Retirement Savers

Walgreens Boots Alliance

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Market value: $45.1 billion

Dividend yield: 3.6%

Consecutive annual dividend increases: 44

Analysts' opinion: 0 strong buy, 1 buy, 19 hold, 2 underperform, 2 sell

Tracing its roots back to a single drugstore founded in 1901, Walgreens Boots Alliance (WBA, $50.95) has boosted its dividend every year for more than four decades. Mostly recently, in July 2019, it declared a hike of 4%. It merged with Alliance Boots - a Switzerland-based health and beauty multinational - in 2014 to form the current company.

Walgreens Boots Alliance and its predecessor company, Walgreen Co., have paid a dividend in 346 straight quarters (more than 86 years) and have raised the payout for 44 consecutive years, the company says. With a payout ratio of just 31% of profits, investors can expect WBA's streak to continue.

The one thing that might halt that streak is a potential bid to go private. Walgreens reportedly was in discussions with private equity firms in late 2019 about a potential buyout, but nothing has come to light since then.

3M

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Market value: $90.1 billion

Dividend yield: 3.6%

Consecutive annual dividend increases: 61

Analysts' opinion: 1 strong buy, 1 buy, 15 hold, 1 underperform, 1 sell

The last couple of years have been unkind to industrial conglomerate 3M (MMM, $156.59). The Dow component, which makes everything from adhesives to electric circuits, kicked, has seen its stock lose nearly a third of its value since the beginning of 2018, hurt partly by sluggish demand from China.

However, whatever the shorter-term holds for 3M's share price, investors can bank on the conglomerate's steady payouts over the long haul. While inclusion in the S&P 500 Dividend Aristocrats requires a minimum of 25 years of uninterrupted annual dividend growth, MMM has much more - its dividend has improved annually for 61 consecutive years, and the payout dates back more than a century. The last hike was a 5.9% increase announced in early February 2019; another announcement should come soon, then, based on 3M's history.

SEE ALSO: Best and Worst States at Minting Millionaires Since the Financial Crisis

Cardinal Health

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Market value: $15.0 billion

Dividend yield: 3.8%

Consecutive annual dividend increases: 34

Analysts' opinion: 0 strong buy, 1 buy, 16 hold, 1 underperform, 2 sell

A steady stream of acquisitions helped wholesale drug and medical device distributor Cardinal Health (CAH, $51.26) become the giant that it is today.

More recently, Cardinal Health had to recall 9 million substandard surgical gowns, which sent hospitals scrambling. CAH said its Chinese supplier outsourced some of the surgical gown production work to a "non-registered, non-qualified facility" where Cardinal couldn't assure its sterility.

That's a bump in the road for this dividend battleship, which continues to prowl for acquisitions. CAH's last big deal was completed in summer 2017, when it acquired Medtronic's Patient Care, Deep Vein Thrombosis and Nutritional Insufficiency business for $6.1 billion.

On the dividend front, Cardinal Health has upped the ante on its annual payout for 34 years and counting. The Dividend Aristocrat last raised its dividend in May, when it announced a small 1% increase to 48.11 cents per share.

Franklin Resources

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Market value: $12.5 billion

Dividend yield: 4.3%

Consecutive annual dividend increases: 38

Analysts' opinion: 0 strong buy, 0 buy, 8 hold, 5 underperform, 3 sell

The name Franklin Resources (BEN, $25.20) might not be well-known among investors; however, along with its subsidiaries, it's called the more familiar Franklin Templeton investments. The global investment firm is one of the world's largest by assets under management, and is known for its bond funds, among other offerings.

Mutual fund providers have come under pressure because customers are eschewing traditional stock pickers in favor of indexed investments. However, Franklin has fought back in recent years by launching its first suite of passive exchange-traded funds.

The asset manager has raised its dividend annually since 1981, including a 4% hike to 27 cents per share quarterly announced in December 2019.

SEE ALSO: 25 Dividend Stocks That Analysts Love the Most

NEW ARISTOCRAT: Amcor

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Market value: $17.3 billion

Dividend yield: 4.3%

Consecutive annual dividend increases: 36

Analysts' opinion: 3 strong buy, 3 buy, 4 hold, 1 underperform, 1 sell

Amcor (AMCR, $10.68) is a pretty boring company. It designs, manufactures and sells various packaging products for every industry you can think of, including food, beverage, pharmaceutical, medical, home and personal care.

Sometimes boring is beautiful, and that's the case with Amcor. It was named to the list of payout-hiking dividend stocks at the start of 2020 after its June acquisition of Bemis. Bemis, which fell out of the S&P 500 index and thus the Aristocrats in 2014, rejoined by merit of its merger with Amcor.

The analyst community expects the company to deliver average annual earnings growth of 8%. Also, with a yield of more than 4%, AMCR is one of the more generous Dividend Aristocrats.

People's United Financial

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Market value: $6.8 billion

Dividend yield: 4.6%

Consecutive annual dividend increases: 26

Analysts' opinion: 0 strong buy, 1 buy, 12 hold, 0 underperform, 0 sell

People's United Financial (PBCT, $15.58) is a rare banking play in this collection of dividend stocks. The regional financial services firm - which operates more than 400 branches in Connecticut, New York, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine - has $48 billion in total assets. The venerable New England institution traces its roots back to 1842.

PBCT was added to the Dividend Aristocrats in January 2019. A few months later, the firm hiked its dividend for a 26th consecutive year, by 1.4% to 17.75 cents per share. Future increases could be modest, too. While the company's payout ratio of 56% is plenty safe, analysts expect modest annual earnings growth of just 2% on average over the next half-decade.

SEE ALSO: The 7 Best Financial Stocks for 2020

Chevron

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Market value: $201.0 billion

Dividend yield: 4.8%

Consecutive annual dividend increases: 33

Analysts' opinion: 10 strong buy, 9 buy, 5 hold, 1 underperform, 0 sell

Chevron (CVX, $106.28) is an integrated oil giant that also has operations in natural gas and geothermal energy. And like its competitors, Chevron hurt when oil prices started to tumble in 2014. The energy major was forced to slash spending as a result, but - reassuringly - it never slashed its dividend.

Cut to today, and the outlook for oil at least looks more stable than it did back then. Kiplinger forecasts that prices will range from $60 to $65 a barrel in the months ahead - a far better environment than what energy companies were dealing with a few years ago. However, that largely depends on the future of the coronavirus outbreak, which does threaten to crimp global demand in the short term.

With more than three decades of uninterrupted dividend growth under its belt, Chevron's track record instills confidence that the payouts will continue. The most recent hike came in January, when CVX lifted its quarterly dividend by more than 8% to $1.29 per share.

AT&T

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Market value: $265.0 billion

Dividend yield: 5.5%

Consecutive annual dividend increases: 36

Analysts' opinion: 9 strong buy, 4 buy, 17 hold, 0 underperform, 1 sell

Telecommunications stocks are synonymous with dividends. Customers pay for service every month, which ensures a steady stream of cash for these dividend stocks.

AT&T (T, $36.96) - the largest U.S. telecom company - is a perfect example.

AT&T has raised its dividend on an annual basis for 36 consecutive years, and typically boasts one of the highest dividend yields in the S&P 500. That's in large part because of the cash flows generated by the telecom business, which enjoys what some call an effective duopoly with rival Verizon (VZ). Together, the pair command almost 70% of the U.S. wireless subscriptions market, according to data from Statista.

That said, the dividend growth isn't exactly breathtaking. AT&T's most recent increase was a 2% uptick announced in December, to 52 cents per share. That continues a years long streak of penny-per-share hikes.

SEE ALSO: The 20 Best Small-Cap Dividend Stocks to Buy

Exxon Mobil

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Market value: $257.1 billion

Dividend yield: 5.6%

Consecutive annual dividend increases: 37

Analysts' opinion: 4 strong buy, 0 buy, 16 hold, 3 underperform, 1 sell

A descendant of John D. Rockefeller's Standard Oil, today's Exxon Mobil (XOM, $60.73) remains one of the world's largest energy companies and is the biggest oil company by market value in the U.S.

As a dividend stalwart - Exxon and its various predecessors have strung together uninterrupted payouts since 1882 - XOM has continued to hike its payout even as oil prices declined in recent years. The Dow component has increased its dividend for 37 consecutive years, and has done so at an average annual rate of 6.2%. That includes a 6.1% boost to its quarterly checks announced in late April.

However, oil-price issues and operational underperformance have driven the stock to decade lows, prompting a few analysts to sour on the stock. The flip side? Exxon's yield has been driven to a high 5.6% for new money.

AbbVie

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Market value: $121.7 billion

Dividend yield: 5.8%

Consecutive annual dividend increases: 48

Analysts' opinion: 5 strong buy, 2 buy, 6 hold, 0 underperform, 0 sell

AbbVie (ABBV, $82.30) currently is the highest yielder on this list of payout-improving dividend stocks. As mentioned earlier, the pharmaceutical maker was spun off from Abbott Laboratories in 2013, and like its parent, it carries a longstanding dividend-growth streak that allowed it to remain among the Dividend Aristocrats.

Including its time as part of Abbott, AbbVie upped its annual distribution for 47 consecutive years. The last hike, declared in November 2019, was a 10.3% bump to $1.18 per share for the dividend to be paid in February 2020.

Best-selling treatments include Humira - a rheumatoid arthritis drug that has been approved for numerous other ailments, and that's Evaluate says is on pace to surpass Lipitor as the best-selling drug of all time. AbbVie also makes cancer drug Imbruvica, as well as testosterone replacement therapy AndroGel.

All told, AbbVie's pipeline includes dozens of products across various stages of clinical trials.

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