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42 Dividend Contenders For Above-Average Total Return

 January 12, 2012 05:23 PM

With interest rates hovering near all-time lows, investors needing income are faced with very limited choices.  The traditional high yield available from bonds and other fixed income vehicles are no longer available to meet the needs of retirees needing income to live off.  Moreover, it is almost a certainty that today's low yields are not adequate enough to fight inflation. Consequently, there is a growing investor interest in dividend paying common stocks, especially those that have a long record of increasing their dividend every year. This has led many lay, and even many professional investors, to assume that dividend paying common stocks are becoming overvalued. In addition to being too general to be relevant, these assumptions do not stand up to closer scrutiny.

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Our research indicates this to be a fallacy, because in truth we have discovered numerous dividend paying enterprises that are trading at historically low valuations.  But even more importantly, in addition to being historically low, we have identified numerous blue-chip companies that are trading below their intrinsic values based on fundamentals, primarily earnings and cash flows.  Today's growing interest has yet to compensate for the enormous aversion to equities that most investors have after being traumatized by the great recession of 2008 and the precipitous drop in stock prices that accompanied it.

On the other hand, not all dividend paying common stocks are the same.  Therefore, we believe that potential investors need to be very discerning regarding the type and quality of the dividend paying stocks they are willing to invest in.  This is especially true for those investors seeking to either augment or replace their fixed income investments with common stocks.  Since the major attractions and benefits of fixed income in addition to yield, are safety and low risk, it only makes logical sense that a dividend paying strategy being considered to replace or supplant it should focus heavily on the same issues.

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Dividend paying common stocks come in many different flavors and range from very aggressive to very conservative.  When considering alternatives to fixed income because of today's low yields, we would argue that the emphasis should be on the most conservative dividend paying common stocks possible.  In this vein, the reliability and predictability of a given dividend payment should rank high in importance. With that said, a logical place to begin looking is at companies that have long histories of paying dividends, and even better, a long history of increasing them each year. Although there is no guarantee that this will continue, a long track record certainly instills confidence.

One of the best sources available for identifying companies with long histories of dividend excellence is with David Fish's CCC lists of Dividend Champions, Contenders and Challengers found here.  The Champions' list is comprised of companies that have increased their dividend every year for at least 25 consecutive years, the Contenders' list is comprised of companies that have raised their dividends for 10 to 24 years, and finally, the Challengers' list is comprised of companies that have increased their dividends every year for between 5 to 9 consecutive years.

It's important to point out here, that in theory at least, the Champions' list is a more conservative group than the Contenders' list which in turn is more conservative than the Challengers' list. As a general statement, we believe this is true, but like most statements that are too general, the devil is in the details.  Consequently, even though the Champions' list is in theory the most conservative, we believe that there are names on the Contenders' list that are even better quality, and therefore, more conservative than some of the names on the Champions' list, and vice versa. Our last article dealt with the Dividend Champions that we believe are on sale. This is important because low prices and valuations are great attributes that mitigate risk in their own right. Here is a link to that article. This article will look at 42 Dividend Contenders that we believe are reasonably priced, too in some cases, significantly undervalued.

42 Dividend Contenders On Sale

This list of Dividend Contenders, like the list of Dividend Champions before, is offered as a prescreened resource made available prior to engaging in a more comprehensive analysis. However, there is a difference between these lists and the traditional lists that are sorted by mere numbers or statistics. Currently, there are only 102 Dividend Champions and only 146 Dividend Contenders. Therefore, we were able to quickly and easily evaluate each company on the lists by running a F.A.S.T. Graphs™ on each company that provides essential fundamentals at a glance. Therefore, we feel that this screen is more comprehensive than one based simply on statistical analysis.

Instead of bothering you with a long iteration using words and numbers to articulate what we screened for, we let a few pictures tell a few thousand words instead. The premium version of F.A.S.T. Graphs™ has David Fish's lists pre-loaded, with his permission of course. Therefore, it was a simple matter of scrolling through each company to determine whether or not it met our criteria of fair value, and whether or not it possessed the quality characteristics of predictability, reliability and consistency that we could be comfortable with. With our first run through, we took price out of the equation so as to only reveal the essential fundamentals of earnings and dividends on each company at a glance. Then we ran through the exercise again, only this time we added monthly closing stock prices to the graphs.

Remembering that we are coveting consistency and predictability with compiling our list of Dividend Contenders on sale, let's review two graphs showing earnings (orange line with white triangles) and dividends (blue shaded area paid out of but stacked on top of earnings) exclusive of stock price.

Two Contenders Rejected because of a Lack of Consistency

Alterra Capital Holdings Ltd. (ALTE)

Our first example, Alterra Capital Holdings Ltd. (ALTE) is a Bermuda-based holding company created by the merger between Max Capital Group and Harbour Point Limited in May of 2010. Max was a holding company formed in 1999 that went public in May of 2001 and paid a dividend that increased every year since (see DIV listed at the bottom of the graph). Although this 11-year record of increasing dividends qualifies it as a Dividend Contender, it was excluded due to the enormous cyclicality and unpredictability of its earnings (see red box at bottom). Simply stated, we didn't feel it was conservative enough to be considered as a potential fixed income replacement.

RenaissanceRe Holdings Ltd.

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