Interest rates are low, and that’s bringing more fixed-income investors into the equity market. There are plenty of solid dividend payers out there, but some stocks are cruising for a bruising with their fundamentals relative to their payout levels.
Altria (NYSE:MO), Dow Inc. (NYSE:DOW), and Lumen Technologies (NYSE:LUMN) pack juicy yields between 4.6% and 8.4%. Some are household names, but that doesn’t mean danger doesn’t lurk in some of these high-yielding dividend stocks.
Unlike the two other names on this list, Altria has been a steady grower. Revenue is moving higher for the 10th year in a row. The steady trickle of tobacco as well as acquisitions along the way into other vices — vaping, cannabis, and drinking — have kept the top line moving higher.
It’s never been noteworthy growth. Since 2001 the strongest annual revenue growth for Altria is a pedestrian 6.3%. However, the future is not kind. Domestic cigarette shipments dipped last year despite folks working from home, and between changing norms and new regulations we may finally be getting to the end of Altria’s growth streak.
Altria did hike its distributions last month. It has now come through with 56 increases over the past 52 years, now yielding 7.1%. This is great news, but with tobacco products continuing to account for the lion’s share of Altria’s business do you really think this is what you want to bank on for the future?
Dow Inc. may seem like an odd name on this list. The chemicals giant has paid out 440 consecutive uninterrupted dividends dating back to 1912. It trades at a low earnings multiple, easily able to cover its current 4.6% yield.
Dow is also coming off a monster quarter where it posted net sales growth of 66%. The problem here is that volume actually only increased 9%. Tight supply and demand fundamentals helped Dow push through a 53% increase in local prices. It’s not going to last. Dow’s numbers will look great in 2021, but it follows back-to-back years of double-digit percentage declines. Analysts see revenue sliding again in 2022.
The stock has a healthy payout ratio, but how comfortable are you owning a stock where net sales will have declined in all but one of a four-year run? Demand may seem steady for its polyurethanes and other packaging materials, but you need consistent growth to keep the distributions coming at today’s heady pace.
A name change can only take you so far. Lumen is the company formerly known as CenturyLink, a struggling provider of regional and commercial telco services. Back out the acquisition of Level 3 four years ago and this should be its ninth consecutive year of organic revenue declines.
Lumen’s 8.4% yield is tempting, and it’s going to woo income investors. The problem is that this hasn’t ended well before. It had to slash its dividend by more than half two years ago. It cut its payout six years before that, too.
In Lumen’s defense, it’s doing a few things right these days. Earnings and cash flow are moving in the right direction. It’s making divestiture moves and it’s earmarking the proceeds for growth investments and buybacks that will help shore up the quarterly disbursements. However, with growth expected to keep contracting through at least the next four years it’s hard to lean on its chunky yield as reliable.
There’s more to investing in dividend stocks than chunky yields. Altria, Dow, and Lumen have generous payouts, but there are things that need to go right to keep those healthy distributions coming.
This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis — even one of our own — helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.