Here's How to Find the Best Dividend Stocks

By Rich Smith Markets Fool.com

Finding a great dividend stock is about more than just finding the stock with the biggest yield. Sure, when dividends are your focus, the dividend yield is an important number. But there are a number of other factors you need to consider.

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For example, you might find a stock paying a great dividend today. But if the company isn't generating the free cash flow necessary to fund its dividend, it might be forced to cut its dividend tomorrow. (In which case you'll be in the unfortunate position of owning a not-so-great dividend stock, and probably one whose stock price is plummeting, as other investors flee the falling dividend).

If falling dividends are bad, then growing dividends are good, right? In that case, you might also want to look into a dividend stock's payout ratio. This metric is expressed as a percentage a company pays in dividends relative to the earnings it uses to pay them. A stock with a 100% payout ratio, for example, may be "maxed out" and financially incapable of growing its dividend. Conversely, a dividend stock with a payout ratio of only 50% might have ample room to grow its dividend.

Analyst projections for rising earnings are another indicator that over time a stock that pays a good dividend today might pay an even better dividend tomorrow.

A great dividend can make anyone happy. Image source: Getty Images.

With these considerations in mind, I've taken the liberty of drawing up a screen on free stock screening websitefinviz.com. I instructed it to search for:

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  • Reasonably large, established companies ($2 billion in market cap and up).
  • That pay a respectable dividend (at least 3%).
  • Currently devote less than 70% of annual profits to dividend payouts.
  • Generate positive free cash flow.
  • And are projected to continue earning, and growing earnings, over the next five years.

The following are three stocks that appear to fit the bill. Go ahead -- read on and give them a look, and see if you agree.

Tupperware Brands (NYSE: TUP)

Tupperware, the container company, might not be the most exciting stock on the planet, but it might be one of the best dividend stocks out there. Starting at the top, this robust dividend payer cuts checks equal to 4.5% of its current market cap in a year. That's twice the average dividend payouton the S&P 500. What's more, Tupperware's $2.72-per-share annual dividend represents only 62% of reported net income -- the aforementioned payout ratio -- which lends some assurance that the dividend is "safe."

Adding further assurance is the fact that, according to data from S&P Global Market Intelligence, Tupperware generated $177 million in free cash flow last year. That's more than enough to cover Tupperware's dividend obligations. Furthermore, analysts who follow the company expect to see Tupperware grow its profits at about 12% annually over the next five years -- giving the company plenty of opportunity to continue growing its dividend in years to come.

H&R Block (NYSE: HRB)

The situation at H&R Block looks similarly good. Here we have a stock paying a 3.8% dividend yield, with a payout ratio of 70%. Growth projections call for 10% annual earnings growth over the next five years.

Where H&R Block really shines, though, is on its cash flow statement, where this tax prep firm boasts trailing free cash flow of $476 million (versus reported net income of only $326 million). Thus, while H&R Block looks at first glance to have less growth potential in its dividend (the payout ratio being closer to 100% than at Tupperware, and the growth prospects being a bit slower), in fact, H&R Block is generating so much more cash than Tupperware, that it might be better positioned to grow its dividend, not worse.

H&R Block's prospects glowed even brighter recently when the company reported earningsthat showed its volume of tax filings processed in fiscal Q3 shrinking slower than was seen elsewhere in the industry. This suggests that the company may be stealing business from its rivals, and gaining market share. If dividend hikes are something you seek, this is the kind of news you should want to see.

Kohl's (NYSE: KSS)

Last but not least, is Kohl's. This well-regarded retailer is on a roll, recently reportingfiscal Q4 earnings that soundly beat expectations despite a small decline in sales. Even better, Kohl's raised guidance for the new year, telling investors in February that it expects to earn anywhere from $0.10 to $0.15 more in fiscal 2017 than it had previously promised.

Yet Kohl's stock doesn't reflect this optimism. With a 12.7 price-to-earnings ratio, this stock is actually the cheapest of the three stocks discussed so far, and it pays a whopping 5.2% dividend yield -- the best on today's list. What's more, Kohl's 61% payout ratio suggests it also has the safest dividend of these three stocks, while its projected growth rate of nearly 9% leaves every likelihood that Kohl's will be able to grow its dividend.

Kohl's certainly has the cash for it. According to the company's cash flow statement, Kohl's threw off $1.4 billion in positive free cash flow last year, an amount equal to nearly 250% of reported net income. Long story short: If anyone on this list has the cash necessary to fund a dividend increase, Kohl's is it.

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Rich Smith has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.