3 Dividend Stocks That Thrive in Both Bull and Bear Markets

Markets Motley Fool

If you depend on income from your investments, you want stocks that will keep the dividends coming regardless of what's going on with the broader market. Ideally, those stocks should also withstand down markets better than most.

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We asked three Motley Fool analysts which dividend stocks they thought should thrive in both bull and bear markets. Here's why they suggested Enterprise Products Partners (NYSE: EPD), Automatic Data Processing (NASDAQ: ADP), and Amgen (NASDAQ: AMGN)

A history of steady growth in good times and bad

Matt DiLallo (Enterprise Products Partners): Energy midstream giant Enterprise Products Partners recently notched its 52nd consecutive quarterly distribution increase. That steady growth is proof that the company can thrive no matter the market condition, especially considering its most recent increases have come during one of the worst downturns to hit the oil market in decades.

Fueling Enterprise Products Partners' ability to thrive when times are tough is that it maintains a conservative financial profile during the good times. Instead of levering up to finance growth projects, the company keeps its leverage low by using the additional excess cash it generates during boom years to help fund growth projects. That leaves the company with more financial flexibility to continue executing on its growth strategy when times are tough.

For example, when the energy market was booming thanks to triple-digit oil from 2011 to 2013, the company chose to maintain a very conservative leverage ratio of 3.5. Thus, it had the flexibility to pounce on growth opportunities during the market downturn, including making more than $8 billion of acquisitions and investing billions more on expansion projects. Even with all this spending, the company kept its leverage ratio from growing out of control since it peaked at 4.4 last year, while many rivals saw theirs spike well past 5.

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Because many of its rivals borrowed heavily during the good times, they didn't have the flexibility Enterprise had when conditions went south. Many slashed their payouts to shore up their financial situation in recent years, even while Enterprise has continued increasing its distribution. Meanwhile, Enterprise has had the flexibility to secure new growth opportunities now that market conditions are starting to improve, including locking up $3.3 billion of expansion projects since the beginning of the year, which should enable it to continue thriving during the next bull run.

Payroll isn't going to process itself

Tim Green (Automatic Data Processing): No matter the market conditions, businesses always need to perform the back-office tasks that keep things running smoothly. Automatic Data Processing is one of the biggest providers of human capital management solutions, processing payroll for hundreds of thousands of clients worldwide.

ADP stock declined during the financial crisis, but it held up better than the S&P 500. One reason for that outperformance was that revenue didn't stop growing, although growth did slow in fiscal 2009 and 2010. ADP was also able to maintain its status as a Dividend Aristocrat despite the bear market, and as of this year it has increased its dividend for 42 consecutive years.

ADP's dividend currently yields about 2.2%, a bit higher than the yield of the S&P 500. ADP stock is not cheap, which shouldn't be a surprise given the quality of the company. Analysts are expecting earnings of $3.71 per share on average for fiscal 2017, putting the P/E ratio at about 27.5.

That high price buys a company that enjoys significant switching costs. Once a customer, particularly a larger customer, has chosen ADP for various back-office tasks, switching to a competitor becomes a costly, disruptive process that probably isn't worth pursuing.

ADP's dividend yield certainly isn't the highest available, and the stock is pricey. But if you want to own shares of a company that should thrive no matter what the market is doing, ADP is a solid choice.

Must-have products regardless of the economic climate

Keith Speights (Amgen): What kind of dividend stock performs well regardless of economic conditions? The kind that sells products that people absolutely must have, no matter what. That's why I think Amgen is a great dividend stock that can go up in good times and bad times.

Amgen's top-selling product is Neulasta. Cancer patients on chemotherapy are especially susceptible to infections, and Neulasta helps the body produce more white blood cells so that it can fight off those infections. It's a potentially life-saving drug. A must-have drug for many. Most of Amgen's other products fall into the must-have category as well.

In 2008, most stock prices sank like a brick in the midst of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Amgen stock rose more than 20% that year.

Back then, however, the biotech didn't pay a dividend. Now it does, having initiated its dividend program in 2011. The company claims one of the fastest-growing dividends on the market, with annual dividend increases averaging 30% over the last three years. Its yield currently stands at a healthy 2.67%.

Amgen does have some challenges. Its revenue has been stagnant, largely caused by declining sales of autoimmune-disease Enbrel, which has suffered at the hands of competition. However, the big biotech has several promising newer drugs, as well as a lot of cash that could be used to buy assets to drive additional growth. Overall, Amgen remains a solid dividend pick for economic booms and busts.

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Keith Speights has no position in any stocks mentioned. Matt DiLallo owns shares of Enterprise Products Partners. Timothy Green has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Automatic Data Processing and Enterprise Products Partners. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.