Are you worried about the bear market? Falling share prices can make it difficult to look at your investments, even if you’re bullish on them over the long term. One way to make it easier to get through these challenging times is to hold some quality dividend stocks that you can rely on for recurring income and which can help offset some of the red in your portfolio.
The average stock in the S&P 500 pays a yield of less than 1.4%. But three stocks that are safe and pay much more than that are Merck (NYSE: MRK), BCE (NYSE: BCE), and General Mills (NYSE: GIS).
Merck is a top healthcare company with a market cap of more than $200 billion. When the company reported its first-quarter earnings in April, there were multiple products in its portfolio that generated sales growth of at least 15% year over year, including top-selling cancer drug Keytruda, which, at $4.8 billion, rose by 23%.
The company’s earnings for the period ended March 31 totaled $1.70 per share. That’s easily enough to cover its quarterly dividend payment of $0.69. Even though its yield is already fairly high at 3.3%, there’s room for rate hikes in the future. Last year, the company announced a 6.2% increase in the dividend. And in just five years, Merck’s payouts have risen by 47% from the $0.47 the company was paying back in 2017.
Investors have been recognizing the safety of Merck’s business, as year to date its shares are up over 10%, which is far better than the S&P 500’s decline of 23%. And with a price-to-earnings multiple of just 15, Merck still isn’t an expensive buy.
You can collect an even higher yield from telecom and media company BCE. At 6%, this is one of the highest-yielding stocks you can load up on without taking on much of a risk. BCE is among the industry leaders in the Canadian telecom sector.
Although BCE doesn’t generate much in the way of growth, income investors will love it for its consistency; sales of 23.4 billion Canadian dollars in 2021 were up just 2% from the previous year and weren’t far from the CA$24 billion that BCE reported in 2019. Despite the stability, the stock’s payout ratio is more than 100% and may turn off some investors.
But for a telecom business where depreciation and amortization costs can run high, accounting income isn’t always the best indicator of a company’s ability to pay dividends. Prior to the pandemic, BCE was consistently generating more than CA$3 billion in free cash flow and that was strong enough to support its payouts (in 2021 its free cash totaled just CA$1.1 billion).
With a return to normal this year and more travel (and greater roaming revenue) on the horizon, BCE should deliver improved results and get to where it was before the COVID-19 pandemic. The dividend is safer than it looks, making BCE a potentially underrated dividend stock to buy right now. Year to date, its shares are down 8%. And in five years, the company has also raised its dividend payments by 28%.
3. General Mills
General Mills is an inflation-resistant stock that could outperform the markets. Down just 2% this year, it’s been fairly stable. And with Cheerios, Betty Crocker, Wheaties, and many other household staples in its portfolio, General Mills has the power to raise prices without putting a big dent in demand for its products.
In just the past year, the company has increased its prices five times in an effort to offset the impact of rising costs. And what’s remarkable is that according to Jonathon Nudi, president of North American Retail at General Mills, the business has been gaining market share in most of its product categories.
That puts the company in a great position to battle inflation. Over the past 12 months, its earnings totaled $3.75 per share, which is already well above the $2.04 it pays annually in dividends per share. Strengthening its margins will only make the dividend that much safer. The company hasn’t raised its payouts since 2020, but at 3.1%, it still offers an excellent yield.