Are you looking for steady dividend income? Then industrial stocks like Eaton Corp (NYSE: ETN), ABB Ltd (NYSE: ABB), and Emerson Electric Corp (NYSE: EMR) should be on your short list. Each is yielding more than 3%, has a long history of paying steady or increasing dividends, and their businesses provide the backbone that keeps the world around us running -- even if what they do sounds a bit boring.
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1. The power specialist
Eaton Corp is focused on power management. It's globally diversified business touches five areas: electrical products (about a third of 2016 revenue), electrical system and services (around 30%), vehicles (roughly 15%), hydraulics (10%), and aerospace (9%). The company's focus is making sure that we use power in the most efficient way possible.
Eaton's yield is a touch over 3% today. It's increased its dividend for eight years running after pausing during the 2007 to 2009 recession. The 10-year annualized growth rate of the dividend is a robust 11%, handily beating the 3% or so historical growth rate of inflation. Recent hikes, however, have been lower because of a downturn in the industrial sector. That said, the company upped its full-year guidance after the first quarter, going from an expectation of zero organic growth in 2017 to growth of between 1% and 3%. Not huge numbers, but it appears that the first quarter might have been an important inflection point.
But there's more to this story. Eaton is also a financially strong company. To put some numbers on that, long-term debt is roughly 30% of the capital structure, providing a solid foundation. And the current ratio of 1.25 means it can easily afford its near-term bills, too. Both are solid numbers that suggest Eaton will have no problems weathering difficult times when they come in the cyclical industrial sector, while it continues to reward investors with consistent and generally growing dividends.
In recent years rewarding investors has been about integrating a major acquisition and cutting costs during an industry soft spot. However, management has recently begun to discuss acquisitions again. With its solid foundation, an acquisition or two should be easy to swallow and would push the accelerator on earnings and dividend growth.
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2. A European giant
ABB is based out of Europe with a focus on digital automation. It breaks its business down into three segments, the varied products group (nearly 60% of revenue), systems (about 25%), and services and software (the remainder). One of the distinguishing features of ABB is its global reach, only about 30% of revenue comes from the Americas -- that includes North, Central, and South America. The rest of its business is from Europe (about a third) and Asia, Africa, and the Middle East (nearly 40%). It's easily the most globally diversified company of this trio.
Like Eaton, ABB is financially strong. For example, long-term debt is roughly a third of the capital structure. And the current ratio is a solid 1.4. The company's yield is currently 3.2%. Like Eaton, ABB hit the pause button during the 2007 to 2009 recession, but has increased the disbursement in each of the past nine years. That said, ABB typically only pays its dividend once a year, and it's paid in Swiss francs, which means the actual U.S. dollar value will fluctuate with exchange rates.
The company saw orders grow 3% year over year in the second quarter, pulling out the effect of currency fluctuations, but core earnings were down 11%. This isn't surprising, since ABB expects 2017 to be a "transitional year" as it continues to shift its portfolio toward businesses with higher growth rates, specifically in the automation space. That process has included selling non-core assets and the completed purchase of Bernecker + Rainer Industrie-Elektronik GmbH, a machine and factory automation specialist. It also recently announced the acquisition of KEYMILE Group's mission-critical communication network business.
Although the changes being put in place aren't done yet, the order uptick in the second quarter suggests ABB is moving in the right direction. And you can get paid reasonably well for holding the stock while it refocuses its business.
3. The aristocrat
Emerson stands out in this trio because it has increased its dividend annually for an incredible six decades. Very few companies can make a claim like that. The current yield is about 3.2%, with an annualized increase over the past 10 years of around 7.5%. Like ABB, Emerson is increasingly focused on automation. That business made up 60% of fiscal second-quarter revenue, with commercial and residential products like heating and cooling systems accounting for the rest of the top line.
The big corporate makeover at Emerson included the 2016 sale of the company's network power business, which wasn't living up to the company's margin expectations. The proceeds from that disposition were then used to buy Pentair's valves and controls business, which bolstered Emerson's higher-margin automation operation. It still has money left over, too, so more acquisitions are likely.
And, like ABB and Eaton, Emerson is starting to see some positive results. That led the company to increase its full-year earnings guidance when it reported fiscal second-quarter earnings. The balance sheet, meanwhile, is equally as strong as its peers above, with long-term debt at roughly a third of the capital structure and a current ratio of 1.25.
Catching the turn
Eaton, ABB, and Emerson aren't the kind of companies you talk about at cocktail parties. They are, however, financially solid businesses that reward their investors with 3% plus dividend yields backed by growing distributions and all appear to be on the verge of better results as they shift and adjust to the changing markets around them. Each is worth a deep dive and it's likely that one or more has a place in your portfolio.
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