What's the safest way to invest in high-yielding dividend stocks?

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November 2014
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The investing world presents an apparently concrete inverse relationship between safety and returns; there is a supposed dichotomy between a low-risk investment and a high-yielding investment. Investors are always looking for a way to capture both, and financial professionals are always trying to find ways to package investment products that present both. If you are looking at dividend-paying stocks specifically, it is best to define what you mean by "safe" and "high-yielding."

"Safe" can be either relative or concrete. If your version of "safe" means that there is absolutely zero downside risk, you are not investing in equities anyway; dividend stocks are not for you. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) protects demand deposit accounts and certificates of deposit up to a certain limit, so you do not suffer any nominal losses there, but you lose out to inflation.

Dividend-paying stocks are attractive because they allow shareholders to profit directly when the company profits and because dividend reinvestment has historically produced superb wealth-building results over long periods of time. Dividends are still attached to equities, which makes them relatively riskier than bonds or FDIC-insured accounts. Even companies with great track records of paying dividends can lose share value, cut dividend payments or go out of business. There is a difference between high dividends and safe dividends.

Simply looking at dividend yields and stock price appreciation is never a good way to pick an equity investment. There have been plenty of historical examples of large dividend yields spiraling out of control and getting ready to be cut. If you are convinced that you want to invest in single shares of dividend-paying stocks, do your homework on the company itself. Learn how to evaluate its financial health and future prospects. There are some companies that pay out dividends even when they operate at a short-term loss.

Another way to reduce the risk exposure with high-dividend yield stocks is to avoid putting your faith in a single company by using mutual funds. There are mutual funds centered around companies with high-dividend yields. As with any mutual fund investment, you might lose out on some upside capture if a company soars but it only makes up a small percentage of your portfolio.

Be wary of companies with high dividends but low retained earnings per share. It may vary from industry to industry. In general, companies must reinvest some profits to make sure that they can continue profitable operations in the future, and that is impossible if there are no retained earnings. You can find all of the information about revenue, net profits, dividends and retained earnings on a firm's income statement and balance sheet.

There is no zero-risk, high-yielding investment. This is especially true with individual company shares, even those that have been around for a long time and have a history of high-yielding dividends.

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