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Swiss Chalet is owned by Cara Operations Ltd., which is a good dividend-growing company.

Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

Dividend-paying companies have become the belle of the investing ball, but they aren't created equal.

Super-high-yielding stocks have plenty of appeal in this era of low interest rates, but it's the dividend growers that let investors have their cake and eat it, too. The stocks offer not only income but also the opportunity to earn more from rising, regular payouts. And they can pick up capital gains over time. Investors who manage to snap up these names during market pullbacks have a chance at even better returns.

We asked three portfolio managers for their top picks among Canadian dividend-growth stocks.

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Gil Lamothe, portfolio manager, Industrial Alliance Investment Management Inc., Toronto

  • The pick: Fortis Inc. (FTS-TSX)
  • Close on April 19: $40.17 a share
  • 52-week range: $34.16 to $41.58 a share
  • Annual dividend: $1.50 a share for a yield of 3.73 per cent

This Newfoundland-based utility giant, which has grown by acquisition, has negotiated a transformative deal to buy U.S.-based ITC Holdings Corp., said Mr. Lamothe, manager of the IA Clarington Dividend Growth fund. The interstate electric transmission company will make Fortis less risky because it will diversify its revenue base, he said. ITC is also governed by the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which allows for better rates of return than state or provincial regulators. The deal, which still requires regulatory approval, will boost Fortis's earnings from U.S. assets to about 60 per cent from 40 per cent. While rising interest rates are a risk because that would increase the cost of debt, Fortis is also a well-run company that has raised dividends annually for the last 42 years, Mr. Lamothe noted.

  • The pick: Telus Corp. (T-TSX)
  • Close on April 19: $40.25 a share
  • 52-week range: $35.51-$45.19 a share
  • Annual dividend: $1.76 a share for a yield of 4.37 per cent

Shares of this telecom company are attractive because it lacks exposure to the volatile media business and has the lowest wireless customer turnover among its rivals, said Mr. Lamothe. While Telus's shares have struggled amid a slowing Alberta economy and a focus on making capital investments to improve service for the long term, "this is an ideal time to own Telus shares," he said. "When the revenues flow from the investments, we will be there to enjoy the ride. We are talking about two to three years." Telus, meanwhile, has raised its dividend 16 times since 2004. Potential new wireless competition from Shaw Communications Inc. is a risk, but Telus's bundled offerings should keep customers from leaving, Mr. Lamothe said.

Brian Tidd, a portfolio manager, Invesco Canada, Toronto

  • The pick: Brookfield Infrastructure Partners LP (BIP.UN-TSX)
  • Close on April 19: $52.88 a share
  • 52-week range: $44.62 to $57.60 a share
  • Annual dividend: $2.28 (U.S.) a share for a yield of 5.78 per cent

This global infrastructure company is "nicely positioned to grow cash flows over time and even in a rising-interest-rate environment," said Mr. Tidd, who is manager of the Trimark Canadian Plus Dividend fund. Brookfield owns ports, toll roads, electricity transmission infrastructure and other investments. "Ninety per cent of the cash flow is regulated or contracted, and largely indexed to inflation or GDP growth," he noted. "Even after the recent share price appreciation, Brookfield's stock is relatively attractive for long-term investors looking for a dividend stream that will grow over time." One risk is the impact of foreign exchange, which reduced funds from operation by $75-million (U.S.) in 2015. Dividends, however, have been growing at a 12-per-cent compounded annual rate since 2009, he said.

  • The pick: Bank of Nova Scotia (BNS-TSX)
  • Close on April 19: $64.33 a share
  • 52-week range: $51.17 to $67.44 a share
  • Annual dividend: $2.88 a share for a yield of 4.48 per cent

Shares of this bank, which has been a consistent dividend grower, are still a bargain despite recent gains, says Mr. Tidd. "The last time these shares were this cheap was during the financial crisis." Its stock recently traded at around 10.5 times forward earnings, and 1.5 times book value. Weak oil prices could increase loan losses, but the bank should be able absorb them, and energy prices will recover eventually, he said. The mortgage market will cool, but the bank should be able to shift to selling other financial products to compensate, he added. Despite some concerns about its emerging markets exposure, particularly in Latin America, "I actually view this as a growth engine for the company over time," he said.

Andy Nasr, portfolio manager, Middlefield Capital Corp., Toronto

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  • The pick: Cara Operations Ltd. (CAO-TSX)
  • Close on April 19: $32.87 a share
  • 52-week range: $22.85 to $36.99 a share
  • Annual dividend: 41 cents a share for a yield of 1.24 per cent

Shares of this restaurant operator are more attractive following the acquisition of Quebec rotisserie chain St.-Hubert Group, said Mr. Nasr, who is manager of the Middlefield Canadian Dividend Growers fund. Seventy per cent of Cara's restaurants, which include Swiss Chalet, Harvey's and Milestones, are in Ontario and 85 per cent are owned by franchisees. With more than 90 per cent of St.-Hubert restaurants owned by franchisees, the revenue stream from royalty fees is a little more predictable now, while the transaction creates an opportunity to expand in Quebec, Mr. Nasr said of Cara, which is controlled by Fairfax Financial Holdings Ltd. A recession or rising food costs are potential risks to the stock, he noted. His one-year target on Cara is $35 to $40 a share.

  • The pick: CCL Industries Inc. (CCL.B-TSX)
  • Close on April 19: $233.77 a share
  • 52-week range: $136.33 to $249.38 a share
  • Annual dividend: $2 a share with a yield of 0.86 per cent

A recent deal by the manufacturer of labels and packaging to buy U.S.-based CheckPoint Systems Inc. should contribute to significant earnings growth, said Mr. Nasr. The acquisition of the maker of anti-theft tags used by retailers still requires shareholder approval. "CCL has a proven management team that has done a good job integrating acquisitions," and will be able wring out synergies nicely from the purchase, he said. CCL shares trade at about 19 times next year's estimated earnings, but it is a cheap stock "in the context of strong revenue growth, high margins and the defensive nature of the business," he said. CCL is a consistent dividend grower, but soaring raw material and energy costs are potential risks to its shares, he added. His one-year target for CCL is $280 a share.

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