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Tickers in this Article: BF.B, CPB, DCI, SPY, PBJ
The number of firms that have been raising dividends recently is growing, which is a positive sign for those seeking evidence of a general business recovery. Below, we highlight three companies that have just hoisted their annual payouts and are worthy of a look because of their recent price performance, too. A couple of them carry very long track records of raising the dividend, and a couple hail from the food and beverage sector.

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Sour Mash Profits
Brown-Forman Corporation (NYSE:BF.B) is in the booze business; it manufactures, bottles and sells alcoholic beverages, including Jack Daniels, Finlandia Vodka and Southern Comfort. Brown-Forman stock is up 29% year-to-date, compared to a 12% gain for the broad market, as represented by the SPDR S&P 500 ETF (NYSE:SPY) over that same period.

Brown-Forman shares trade with a relatively high 22.8 P/E ratio and pay an annual dividend of 1.8%. That's a dividend, by the way, that has been raised annually without fail for the last 27 years. The company last raised dividends by 6.7%, to 32 cents.

Two recent developments have driven the share price higher in recent months. The first is a stock repurchase program that was initiated in the summer and is due to wind up by year's end. According to the company's board of directors, $250 billion worth of stock will be retired over that period. The second development was the company's beating analysts' most recent EPS estimates. Whereas the street had been expecting $1, the company delivered $1.05. Growth this quarter was attributed to strong overseas sales.

The Cleaner Air Business
Another firm with a long history of dividend raises is Donaldson Company (NYSE:DCI), makers of filtration systems and exhaust and emission control products for engines and industrial applications. The company recently upped its annual payout by 4%, making for an annual yield of 0.9%. That was the second dividend increase in a year, bringing the company to 25 straight years of annual dividend increases. The shares are currently priced at 25 times last year's earnings and are up an outsized 38% since January.

Soup's On!
The Campbell Soup Company (NYSE:CPB) is a household name to most Americans, but how many know that Campbell's just raised its payout by 5% to $1.16 per annum? That makes for a 3.3% yield on a stock with a P/E multiple of 14.7. Campbell's has a more modest seven-year history of dividend hikes.

CPB shares have underperformed the broader food and beverage sector, as represented by the PowerShares Dynamic Food and Beverage ETF (NYSE:PBJ), which is up 29% in 2010. Campbell's Soup has managed a gain of just 2.8%.

The Wrap
Dividends are great when they're big, but they're greater still when they're continually raised. When this is coupled with a strong record of capital appreciation, you've got a great stock on your hands.

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