Holding a stake in great businesses that regularly pay dividends and then reinvesting those payouts is one of the most dependable paths to long-term wealth creation. The challenge, then, is finding companies that are positioned to sustain a high level of performance and keep that returned income flowing while also shoring up the future of the business.
With that in mind, we asked three Motley Fool investors to identify a top high-yield stock that's worth holding forever. Read on to see why they picked UBS (NYSE: UBS), International Business Machines (NYSE: IBM), and AT&T (NYSE: T).
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Safe as a Swiss bank -- because it is one
Rich Smith (UBS): How high is a "high yield?" Does nearly twice the average dividend payout on the S&P 500 qualify? Because if it does, then UBS Group AG just might be the stock you're looking for.
UBS pays a 3.9% dividend yield, which seems pretty high to me, given that the average stock on the S&P pays just 2%. Admittedly, right now UBS doesn't look like it should be paying so much out in dividend checks, as "3.9%" is about 122% more money than UBS actually earned last year. But here's the thing -- and here's why I think UBS stock might be worth a look despite its high payout ratio and similarly high P/E ratio (currently 61 times earnings).
Last year, UBS's profits got hit by the one-two punch of a $1.2 billion restructuring charge, and a $4.2 billion income tax bill. That tax bite, however, was much more than UBS had paid in any of the previous five years. In fact, it was more than UBS paid in all of the previous five years combined. As such, it seems likely that last year's tax hit was a one-time thing related primarily to the effects of tax reform in the U.S., and not likely to repeat in future years. Going forward, I think it more likely we'll see UBS turn in annual profits closer to the $3.2 billion it earned in 2016 -- or even the $6.2 billion it earned in 2015 -- than the $1.1 billion it earned last year.
With a corporate history stretching back more than 150 years, UBS is a bank stock built to stand the test of time -- and to keep on paying you dividends forever.
A century of dividends
Tim Green (International Business Machines): IBM investors have missed out on the raging bull market in technology stocks. While the Nasdaq 100 index has more than doubled over the past five years, shares of IBM have shed about 25% of their value. A half-decade of slumping revenue kept many investors away from the century-old tech giant.
That decline is now over, with IBM reporting revenue growth in the fourth quarter of 2017 and expecting growth to continue this year. The actions that the company has taken over the past five years or so, including investing in growth businesses like cloud computing and artificial intelligence, are starting to show tangible results. Growth businesses generated $36.5 billion of revenue last year, up 11%, while the cloud business grew by 24% to $17 billion.
A technology company doesn't survive for more than a century without building up a track record of transformation. IBM's latest turnaround isn't its first, and it won't be its last. This ability to adapt is a key reason to buy and hold the stock.
For dividend investors, another reason to buy and hold the stock is a world-class dividend. IBM's current quarterly payout of $1.50 per share works out to a yield of 3.8%, and the company is widely expected to raise that dividend this month, making it 23 years in row. IBM has paid a quarterly dividend without interruption since 1916, through the Great Depression, two World Wars, and its near-collapse in the 1990s.
Dividend investors looking for a high yield and decades of consistency could do a lot worse than IBM.
A top telecom dividend play
Keith Noonan (AT&T): With its big yield, history of delivering regular dividend growth, and a non-prohibitive valuation, AT&T is a stock that's worth building a super-long-term position in. The telecom giant's yield comes in at 5.7%, and a 34 year history of delivering annual payout growth and massive cash flow suggest there's a good chance the company will continue to raise its payout.
The company's stock performance has been tepid in recent years due to pressures in both the wireless and television spaces. Competition from budget priced rivals like T-Mobile has put pressure on mobile service sales and the rise of cord-cutting and skinny bundles is impacting the performance of its DirecTV subsidiary. AT&T has been leveraging its advantage when it comes to bundling mobile, internet, and television services to create meager sales growth, but it's also taking hits when it comes to its margin.
The good news is that the company may be able to reclaim pricing strength and create new revenue streams with the introduction of 5G networks. 5G is the next generation of wireless internet technology, and it's on track to deliver dramatic speed increases that will pave the way for better consumer-level service and a range of new technologies including connected cars, augmented-reality hardware, and smart-city devices.
Another positive catalyst on the horizon is its pending acquisition of Time Warner -- so long as it survives an antitrust suit from the Department of Justice. If AT&T is allowed to integrate the entertainment company, it'll diversify into a new space and open up new bundling and advertising opportunities that could do a lot to brighten its long-term earnings trajectory.
Shares trade at just 10 times forward earnings estimates and nine times this year's projected free cash flow. With its top-notch dividend profile and the company making some smart moves to fortify its business, AT&T looks like a smart long-term play.
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Keith Noonan has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Rich Smith has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Timothy Green owns shares of IBM. The Motley Fool is short shares of IBM. The Motley Fool recommends Time Warner and T-Mobile US. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.