One of 2017's Top Dividend Aristocrats Is on Our "Stocks to Buy" List

This list ranks the 15 top dividend aristocrats of the year by total returns, including one of our best dividend aristocrats to buy this year...

Dividend Stock Share Price Annual Dividend 2017 Return
C.R. Bard Inc. (NYSE: BCR) $314.12 $1.04 +39.8%
Sherwin-Williams Co. (NYSE: SHW) $351.65 $3.40 +30.7%
Abbott Laboratories (NYSE: ABT) $47.49 $1.06 +23.5%
McDonald's Corp. (NYSE: MCD) $149.74 $3.76 +23.1%
Medtronic Plc. (NYSE: MDT) $87.32 $1.72 +22.7%
Stanley Black & Decker Inc. (NYSE: SWK) $140.09 $2.32 +22.1%
MSA Safety Inc. (NYSE: MSA) $83.36 $1.40 +20.4%
Illinois Tool Works Inc. (NYSE: ITW) $145.29 $2.60 +18.6%
Pentair Plc. (NYSE: PNR) $66.20 $1.38 +18.1%
PPG Industries Inc. (NYSE: PPG) $111.29 $1.60 +17.4%
Universal Health Realty Income Trust (NYSE: UHT) $76.70 $2.64 +16.9%
3M Co. (NYSE: MMM) $208.63 $4.70 +16.8%
Vectren Corp. (NYSE: VVC) $60.69 $1.68 +16.4%
Eaton Vance Corp. (NYSE: EV) $48.68 $1.12 +16.2%
Becton, Dickinson and Co. (NYSE: BDX) $191.68 $2.92 +15.8%

Dividend aristocrats are firms on the S&P 500 that have increased their annual dividend for a minimum of 25 consecutive years.

The top dividend aristocrat (by year-to-date gain) on this list is medical device manufacturer C.R. Bard Inc., which is up 39.8% so far in 2017 and pays $1.04 per share on an annual basis. But the stock with the highest dividend on the list is multinational conglomerate 3M Co. with an annual payout of $4.70.

top dividend aristocratsAlthough some of these top dividend aristocrats only pay around $1 per share each year, they can potentially make you a killing if you reinvest the dividend payments back into the stock...

For instance, let's say you invested $100 in the entire S&P 500 Index in 1940. If you didn't use the dividends to buy more shares of the stock, you would have grown your investment to $12,000 by 2012 - including the dividends that weren't reinvested. However, if you did reinvest those dividends, your investment would've grown to a stunning $174,000 over the same period.

That $162,000 difference is one reason Money Morning Chief Investment Strategist Keith Fitz-Gerald sees dividend investing as a great way to create long-term wealth.

"As you can see, dividends can work magic when it comes to reaching your financial goals and a safe retirement," Keith told Money Morning Members.

Must See: This Great Depression-Era "Secret" Helped Transform Two Teachers into Millionaires. Read more...

While we don't advise just throwing money at every dividend aristocrat, one of the companies listed above has been among Keith's top stocks to buy for over five years. Since first recommending it on Jan. 13, 2012, shares have skyrocketed 163.3% -- and we expect them to go even higher this year.

Other analysts agree with our bullish stance. In fact, Thomson Reuters analysts predict this stock could post a double-digit gain over the next 12 months.

Here's our best dividend aristocrat to own this year...

One of the Top Dividend Aristocrats to Buy in 2017

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Keith recommends Becton, Dickinson and Co. (NYSE: BDX), which boasts a $2.92 annual dividend that's been raised for 45 years straight. Its payout has seen an annualized growth of 10.1% since 2014. That could keep growing as the firm is taking over the medical device industry.

Its $12 billion acquisition of competitor CareFusion Corp. in 2015 and $24 billion buyout of C.R. Bard in April all but ensure Becton's dominance over the medical supply market.

Becton Dickinson is a medical technology company that sells products to both the general public and healthcare companies. It's considered a stalwart of the American medical industry, operating since 1897 and being one of the first firms to sell glass syringes. It's also the first U.S. company to produce hypodermic needles and thermometers in the early 1900s.

Keith likes Becton Dickinson because it falls into two of the six "Unstoppable Trends," which are medicine, technology, demographics, scarcity and allocation, energy, and war, terrorism, and ugliness (also known as defense). The Unstoppable Trends are backed by trillions of dollars that Washington cannot derail, the Federal Reserve cannot meddle with, and Wall Street cannot hijack.

The Unstoppable Trends that Becton Dickinson targets are medicine and demographics. People, especially those who are aging, will always need the syringes, thermometers, and other medical supplies that this company ostensibly has a monopoly over.

Simply put, people need the company's products to survive. That will consistently strengthen demand and grow profits.

"Short-term market conditions have no bearing whatsoever on Becton Dickinson's profitability nor its business model because customers have to have what they make and governments around the world will spend trillions of dollars to make sure they get it," Keith said on March 22.

The fact that Becton Dickinson's products are necessities is evident in the firm's recent earnings report. Last quarter, the company earned $2.30 per share on revenue of $2.97 billion. Those were up 5.5% and 3.2%, respectively, from the same period one year ago. Becton's earnings per share (EPS) also beat the Zacks Consensus Estimate of $2.23 by 3.1%.

And Thomson Reuters analysts see its earnings soaring from here. Their average EPS estimate for the fiscal Q3 is $2.44 - up 6.1% from $2.30 last quarter. Not to mention they expect the year-end 2017 EPS to reach $9.45, which would be a stunning 110% increase from $4.49 in 2016.

Those same analysts give BDX stock a one-year price target as high as $213. That would be a 10.8% return for investors who buy in today - with more room to run, even as the stock hits all-time highs of $192.18 at press time. A higher share price could also lead the company to boost its dividend again and keep its 45-year dividend aristocrat streak going.

As the sole dominating force in the American medical device industry, Becton Dickinson is the best stock to buy for passive income and solid growth.

Up Next: Keith's 4 Favorite Silver Investments of 2017

Alex McGuire is an associate editor for Money Morning. Follow him on Twitter.

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