3 Dividend Aristocrats to Buy in March

By Keith Noonan, Dan Caplinger, and Jason Hall Markets Fool.com

Dividend-paying stocks offer ways to generate income and insulate your portfolio in the event of market downturn, but it's generally a good idea to look for stocks that offer reliable payment increases in addition to sizable yields. Among the most reliable dividend increases are the "Dividend Aristocrats" -- members of the S&P 500 index that have delivered at least 25 years of consecutive payout growth.

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To highlight some of the best investment options out of the 51 stocks that satisfy those criteria, we asked three Motley Fool writers to profile a top Dividend Aristocrat stock to buy this month. Here's whyPepsiCo (NYSE: PEP), VF Corporation (NYSE: VFC), and Procter & Gamble(NYSE: PG) made the list.

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Raise a glass to this food and beverage giant

Dan Caplinger (PepsiCo): PepsiCo caters to two basic needs that consumers across the globe have: food and drink. Yet the company has put together an impressive record of dividend growth by going beyond the basics to innovate and become a leader in the food and beverage industry using the full power of its Pepsi soft drink line, Frito-Lay snack division, and other key franchises. CEO Indra Nooyi and her team were among the first to see the shift toward healthier snack and drink options, and PepsiCo responded with new product lines and new options within existing, well-known brand favorites to try to keep customers satisfied despite their changing tastes. At a time when its competitors are struggling with backlash against perceived unhealthy sugary soft drinks, PepsiCo remains well ahead of the curve.

PepsiCo has a reasonably strong dividend yield of 2.7%, but what truly stands out is its track record of boosting its dividend each and every year for 44 straight years. That's what qualifies the company as a Dividend Aristocrat, and the most recent 7% dividend increase came last June. That makes now a good time to consider PepsiCo for your income-investment portfolio, especially in light of the likelihood that a 45th consecutive annual dividend increase is likely on its way in the next couple of months.

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A great company going through a rough spell

Jason Hall(VF Corporation): Over the past couple of years, VF Corp. has seen years of steady growth come to a halt. 2016 revenues were $12 billion, essentially the same as the year before, while operating income and profits actually declined.

So, why buy a company that's seeing sales stagnate and profits go backward? Because VF is an excellent company that's already made changes to strengthen its business, while continuing to own a collection of powerful brands that have proven the ability to outlast fashion trends. Last year, VF sold off a handful of its smaller contemporary brands that it has struggled to grow, freeing up resources it can dedicate to its more proven businesses. This is exactly the kind of move investors should like to see in a company that's renowned for its focus on costs and leveraging its best assets.

Looking ahead, 2017 isn't likely to be much better than 2016, but the long term looks really solid. The U.S. economy is in good shape, and the opportunity for international growth remains very strong. And trading at around 17 times next year's earnings, VF's stock is a pretty good deal right now. Add in a 2.9% yield on its dividend, and the expectation that the company should be able to continue expanding it for years to come, and now's a good time to invest in this great company.

A consumer goods stalwart

Keith Noonan(Procter & Gamble): With a reputation for being a relatively safe, low-growth stock even among the list of Dividend Aristocrats, Procter & Gamble might not be an exciting pick, but the company has a great dividend profile and avenues to substantial payout increases down the line. It's true that the company's last increase boosted its dividend by just 1%, and a payout ratio of nearly 70% suggests a potential obstacle to big raises, but there are signs that its sales trajectory is turning around, and margins should continue to improve.

The company is guiding for organic sales growth between 2% and 3% this year, and earnings and free cash flow should see tailwinds as the company cuts down on expenses andmoves forward with a more favorable product mix. Looking ahead, the company anticipates that it can save roughly $2 billion annually over the next five years by reducing non-manufacturing overhead and the cost of goods sold.

Procter & Gamble's moat is its brand strength, and it owns and manufactures some of the most well-known consumer goods brands on the planet -- including Crest toothpaste, Tide laundry detergent, and Gillette razors. The company has 23 brands that generate more than $1 billion in annual retail sales, andrecent divestiture from lagging products is helping to improve overall profitability.

P&G yields 2.9%, and the company has raised its payout for 60 years running. With the company expected to announce a payout increase in April and strong long-term prospects for its business, March looks like a great time to buy P&G stock.

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Dan Caplinger has no position in any stocks mentioned. Jason Hall has no position in any stocks mentioned. Keith Noonan has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends PepsiCo. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.