How to Find the Best Dividend Stocks

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It's only April, but it appears dividend payouts this year will soar past 2012's tally - meaning all investors need to know how to find the best dividend stocks or risk missing out on record-high yield.

Barron's reports that in Q1, 944 of approximately 10,000 U.S. companies boosted payouts, either by increases, extras or resumption. That was up a hefty 39.4% from 677 companies a year ago.

Dividend increases alone tallied $14.5 billion. Cash payments jumped 12%, while the forward indicated dividend rate reached an all-time high.

The following favorite dividend stocks are among those that juiced payouts in the first quarter:

  • 3M Co. (NYSE: MMM) raised its dividend 8% to $0.63 per share.
  • General Electric Co. (NYSE: GE) increased quarterly payment 12% to $0.19 per share.
  • Pfizer Inc. (NYSE: PFE) hiked its dividend by 9% to $0.24 per share.
  • The Home Depot Inc. (NYSE: HD) boosted its quarterly dividend 34% to $0.35.

With dividends on the rise, investors can't afford to pass up the security and income dividend stocks have to offer.

We asked our Money Morning income expert Martin Hutchinson for more information on how to find the best dividend stocks for your portfolios.

Increasing Demand for Dividend Stocks

Amid five years of near-zero interest rates, dividend stocks have taken on a new revered status.

Indeed, dividends matter.

Over the last 36 years, dividend stocks have outperformed the rest of the S&P 500 by 2.5% annually. Moreover, in addition to paying out cash to shareholders, dividend payers still beat nonpayers by nearly 8% every year, according to Ned Davis Research.

A key consideration about dividends is that investors are rewarded in the traditional way- cash.

With a growing class of dividend payers, investors ought to be selective. That's why we have narrowed down the selection process.

How to Find the Best Dividend Stocks

The best place to start is with heirloom stocks.

"These are stocks you buy, hold and watch them grow-steady earners you can rely on to fund a growing prosperity in retirement, or leave to your grandchildren knowing that the expenses of their lives will be safely covered," said Hutchison. These select stocks "should be an important base of any portfolio, especially one used for retirement purposes."

Heirloom stocks have some distinct investment advantages including:

  • Their annually increasing dividend generally moves the stock price higher over time.
  • They provide increasing income as well as capital growth.
  • As legacy stocks, they are ideal for retirement planning.
  • They provide considerable protection against inflation.
  • If the company maintains its track record, you never need to sell them.

Where to Find Heirloom Stocks

In all, there are 82 to choose from, with yields ranging from 0.8% to 11.3%.

But simply chasing yield is never prudent. Instead, hunt for stocks with a minimum yield of 2%.

Also key is buying stocks that will maintain their lengthy track record of boosting dividends.

This choice group of 82 stocks has not just paid dividends for 30 plus years, they have also boosted payouts in every one of those years.

Here are a few of Hutchinson's top dividend stocks:

  • The Procter and Gamble Co. (NYSE: PG), the consumer products company, has increased its dividend every year since 1954. It yields around 3.0% and its P/E is 17.5 times. The company's dividend has increased 8.2 times since 1993 and its return on equity is 17.5%. As heirloom stocks go, PG is top quality.
  • Emerson Electric Co. (NYSE: EMR), provides electrical engineering products and services. It has increased its dividend every year since 1957. Its yield is 2.9% and its P/E is 20.4 times. The company's dividend has increased 4.6 times since 1993 and its return on equity is 20.1%. Again, a top quality Heirloom Stock, albeit a little expensive at the moment.
  • 3M Company (NYSE: MMM) has increased its dividend every year since 1959. It has a yield of 2.5%, and a P/E of 16.4 times. It has enjoyed a less exciting 2.9 times dividend increase since 1993 but the consumer price index is up only 62% in that period. However, its return on equity is a stellar 26.6%. It may not be rapidly growing, but still makes for an excellent long-term investment.

Warning - Now that you know what to look for in dividend stocks, don't let a high-yield distract you, like the ones offered here: Beware These Three Dividend Stocks Ready to Slash Their Payout

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