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5 Dividends That Are About to Get Bigger - views
BALTIMORE (Stockpickr) -- You deserve a raise... from your portfolio.
And since earnings season is still in full swing, income-seeking investors are in an ideal spot to grab bigger paychecks from their stock holdings. Dividend hikes and earnings announcements go hand in hand, after all. It doesn't hurt that U.S. stocks are sitting on record cash holdings at the same time they're beating analysts' earnings estimates for the quarter -- while Wall Street only expected a 1.9% increase in fourth quarter profits, firms have actually boosted their earnings by 5% this quarter.
With average payout ratios for the S&P 500 still well below historic averages, firms have a lot of room to hike their dividends without going overboard. But it's not enough to jump in after a big dividend hike -- investors who want the maximum effect for their portfolios need to get in early and predict dividend boosts. While that's easier said than done, it's far from impossible to step in front of big dividend payouts.
In the past few months, we've had some stellar success in finding future dividend hikes just by zeroing in on a few key factors. Now we'll look at our crystal ball and try to do it again.
For our purposes, that "crystal ball" is composed of a few factors: namely a solid balance sheet, a low payout ratio, and a history of dividend hikes. While those items don't guarantee dividend announcements in the next month or three, they do dramatically increase the odds that management will hike their cash payouts, especially as investors start to get antsy about whether or not 2013's rally will be able to hang on.
Without further ado, here's a look at five stocks that could be about to increase their dividend payments in the next quarter.
Marathon Oil Corporation
Independent oil and gas exploration firm Marathon Oil Corporation (MRO) has been reaping the benefits of its unique exposure of late, rallying more than 24% as oil prices push higher alongside stocks. Marathon's reserves are made up of 1.8 billion barrels of oil equivalent spread across North America, Indonesia, Europe, and the Middle East. Around three-quarters of those reserves are made up of liquids, exposure that gives MRO more bang for its extraction buck given current commodity prices.
Because Marathon is an E&P firm first and foremost, it's got much less in the way of midstream and downstream assets than most peers -- a fact that gives MRO deeper margins and less in the way of capital costs. Marathon's costs are pretty standard for the industry, but that's looking a whole lot more attractive with oil prices on the high end of their historic range. The firm has the most upside is in its shale portfolio, which still has room for unproven reserves to beat analysts' expectations.
Financially, MRO is in good shape, with a manageable debt load on its balance sheet and access to plenty of liquidity. The firm's cash generation makes a boost to its 17-cent quarterly dividend look likely. Right now, Marathon pays out a 2% yield -- I'd expect that to get boosted in the near-term.
Baker Hughes (BHI) is another oil name that's enjoying an energy sector rally in the near-term. Year-to-date, shares of the $20 billion oil servicer have climbed 10%, besting the broad market's climb by a fair margin. Right now, BHI pays out a 15-cent quarterly dividend -- but that 1.34% yield could be due for an upgrade in 2013.
BHI is a major player in the oil field service business, providing drilling and pumping services, oil field chemicals, and specialized tools to production companies looking to get their commodities out of the ground as effectively as possible. The firm's operations are spread across 90 countries, giving it the flexibility to service nascent oil industries in emerging markets. Competition is tough in the oil service business, so BHI's proprietary drilling technology is critical for the firm's success -- the drilling expertise gets BHI's foot in the door to offer less specialized products and services on any given project.
The firm generates considerable free cash flows, a critical factor in its ability to hike its dividend in 2013. As oil prices continue to make a steady ascent, so too should E&Ps' willingness to shell out more cash for BHI's services.
Banks haven't exactly been known for their dividend potential of late. But U.S. Bancorp (USB) has been the exception rather than the rule lately. The $62-billion banking stock may not get the same status as the big four, but its scale is mammoth nevertheless. And its 19.5-cent dividend payout looks ready for an increase.
Based in Minneapolis, U.S. Bancorp operates in 25 states as a conventional retail and commercial bank -- but it's the firm's unconventional approach to revenues that makes it especially attractive right now. USB has focused on fee-based revenues, building out its wealth management, credit card servicing, and trustee businesses, three units that have contributed double-digit growth rates to USB's income statement. Fee-based revenues are generally recurring, and they tend to court stickier customers than traditional banking operations could hope to. In the low-rate environment we're in now, that's a big benefit for shareholders.
USB's financial health should be sufficient to sway regulators into letting the firm boost its dividend payout in the next quarter. Right now, the firm's yield weighs in at 2.33%.
Airgas (ARG) is the world's largest industrial gas supplier, a business that doesn't sound particularly exciting. But ARG's performance has been exciting. Shares of the $7.6-billion firm are up more than 23% in the last year -- and that's after posting similar gain numbers in 2011 as well. But capital gains are only part of the overall picture; a hike to Airgas' 40-cent quarterly dividend could be in the cards for investors in the near-term too.
Airgas supplies everyone from industrial manufacturers to hospitals with gases such as oxygen, nitrous oxide, and acetylene, and it has a smaller business selling hard goods hard goods such as welding equipment and eye protection. The gas business is attractive because it's got relatively high barriers to entry (bottling gas takes equipment and expertise), extremely low commodity costs, and a distribution system that's designed to generate especially high returns on investment for gas companies.
As one of the few firms with the national scale to grab large national accounts, Airgas has an advantage over smaller competitors in this fragmented industry. And because gas tends to be a relatively small cost for ARG's customers, they're relatively insensitive to changes in gas prices, giving the firm attractive pricing power. Stellar customer stickiness rounds out the picture for this industrial supplier -- expect those fundamentals to spur a dividend hike on the horizon.
Genuine Parts Company
The automotive industry has been enjoying stellar relative strength of late -- and car parts companies have been one of the biggest beneficiaries of the trend. Enter Genuine Parts Company (GPC), the firm behind the NAPA brand of auto parts retailers, a business that stocks nearly 400,000 parts at each of its nearly 5,000 franchised and company-owned stores.
Right now, the average car driving in the U.S. was built 11.1 years ago. That's the oldest median age for the country's vehicle fleet that's ever been reported, and as consumers look to stretch the lifespan of aging cars, parts makers stand to benefit in a big way.
Car parts aren't GPC's whole business. The firm also supplies industrial and electronic components, businesses which basically operate under the same models as NAPA's wholesale parts business -- it serves customers who need mission-critical parts for industrial machines. GPC's role is all about getting niche parts to customers as fast as possible. Currently, GPC pays out a 49.5-cent dividend per share for a 2.85% dividend yield. There's more room for the firm to boost its payout in 2013.
To see these dividend plays in action, check out the at Dividend Stocks for the Week portfolio on Stockpickr.
At the time of publication, author had no positions in stocks mentioned.
Jonas Elmerraji, CMT, is a senior market analyst at Agora Financial in Baltimore and a contributor to TheStreet. Before that, he managed a portfolio of stocks for an investment advisory returned 15% in 2008. He has been featured in Forbes , Investor's Business Daily, and on CNBC.com. Jonas holds a degree in financial economics from UMBC and the Chartered Market Technician designation.