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What are we looking for?

U.S. large-cap dividend payers.

The screen

It’s hard to believe the turnaround we’ve seen this year in the North American equity markets. Last year, between October and December, the drawdown on the S&P 500 index was in the neighborhood of 17 per cent on a total return basis, enough to concern most investors. Here we are a year later with the index showing a year-to-date total return closing in on 30 per cent.

Whether this hot market will continue into 2020 is likely top of mind for many investors. For those wary of a correction, this week’s model might offer some ideas. The strategy seeks companies in the S&P 500 that show a good combination of the following metrics:

  • Quarterly dividend momentum (the trailing four quarters of dividends paid compared against the same number one quarter ago);
  • Five-year deviation in earnings per share (a stability measure outlining how stable a company’s earnings have been over the past five years, low values better);
  • Expected dividend growth rate (percentage difference between the expected annual dividend rate and the actual trailing dividend paid in the past four quarters);
  • Five-year historical beta (a measure of historical sensitivity to the index – in trending markets, a company with a beta under one has moved less than the index, which is preferred here).

To qualify, companies must have a five-year average return on equity greater than the market median and a dividend payout ratio of less than 80 per cent.

More about Morningstar

Morningstar Research Inc. provides independent investment research in North America, Europe, Australia and Asia. Its research tool, Morningstar CPMS, provides quantitative North American equity research and portfolio analysis to institutional clients and financial advisers. CPMS data cover more than 95 per cent of the investable North American stock market. With more than 120 equity and credit analysts, Morningstar has one of the largest independent institutional equity research teams in the world.

What we found

I used Morningstar CPMS to back test this strategy from April, 2004, to the end of November, 2019. During this process, a maximum of 15 stocks were purchased and equally weighted with no more than four stocks for each sector. Once a month, stocks were sold if their rank fell below the top 35 per cent of the universe, or if the company’s dividend payout ratios on earnings exceeded 90 per cent.

Over this period, the strategy produced an annualized total return of 11.4 per cent while the S&P 500 gained 9.2 per cent on a total return basis. In calendar year 2008, the strategy lost 23.6 per cent while the index declined 37 per cent. In 2018, the strategy gained 10.3 per cent while the index lost 4.4 per cent.

The stocks that qualify for purchase are listed in the table below. It is always recommended to speak to a financial adviser or investment professional before investing.

Select U.S. large-cap dividend stocks

RankCompanySymbolMorningstar SectorMkt. Cap. (US$ Mil.)Qtly. Div. Mom. (%)Expected Div. Grth. Rate (%)5Y EPS Dev. (%)5Y Hist. BetaDiv. Yld. (%)Payout Ratio (%)5Y Avg. ROE (%)Recent Close (US$)Ttl. Rtn. from Month End, 12M Ago (%)
1Broadcom Inc.AVGO-QTechnology128,442.09.322.66.30.94.056.436.6323.8030.5
2Zoetis Inc.ZTS-NHealth care60,537.66.629.48.10.80.619.871.1127.1049.4
3Eli Lilly & Co.LLY-NHealth care120,333.23.418.56.00.22.444.435.9125.3310.5
4CDW Corp.CDW-QTechnology20,023.37.828.811.31.11.123.349.2139.3673.5
5Mastercard Inc.MA-NFin'l Serv.298,623.76.929.010.51.00.517.785.2296.0057.6
6MarketAxessMKTX-QFin'l Serv.14,165.94.84.63.20.20.533.128.3373.5477.7
7Cboe Global Mkts.CBOE-AFin'l Serv.12,938.64.011.613.20.01.228.946.0116.7120.7
8Snap-On Inc.SNA-NIndustrials9,425.33.513.71.91.22.533.920.7171.8521.0
9McCormick & Co.MKC-NCons. Def.22,200.32.311.24.90.11.544.224.8167.0321.2
10Amgen Inc.AMGN-QHealth care144,291.52.312.91.91.12.640.438.8242.8427.7
11Visa Inc.V-NFin'l Serv.412,448.84.220.07.00.90.619.328.8185.5241.4
12Merck & Co Inc.MRK-NHealth care226,643.53.310.93.80.52.743.628.189.0219.5
13Allegion PLC *ALLE-NIndustrials11,478.06.35.92.81.20.920.53,042.1123.5356.3
14Starbucks Corp.SBUX-QCons. Cycl.104,081.50.013.92.20.51.953.9147.688.1339.2
15Sysco Corp.SYY-NCons. Def.42,930.52.017.66.80.52.147.345.084.1436.8

Source: Morningstar CPMS

* The ROE For ALLE is high because of the negative book value of equity. This extreme value was accounted for in the analysis.

Ian Tam, CFA, is a relationship manager for CPMS at Morningstar Research Inc.

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