It’s easy enough to understand why. The 10-year Treasury yields barely more than 2%, and traditionally high-yielding sectors like utilities and REITs yield less than 4%. Even “high-yield” junk bonds (and yes, you have to write “high-yield” in quotation marks these days) yield only 5.9%, and these come with the not-so-insignificant risk of default.
Today, we’re going to take a look at seven high-dividend stocks that fall a little outside the mainstream. Not all of these are dividend stocks that I would necessarily recommend, but all are worth at least keeping on your radar. It is their quirkiness and lack of inclusion in major benchmark indexes that tends to keep them off limits to large institutional investors and create the very conditions that make them worth considering for us.
I’ll start with a stock that is one of my personal favorites…but one that also tends to give a lot of investors the heebie jeebies: publicly-traded crypt keeper StoneMor Partners L.P. (NYSE:STON). StoneMor owns and operates 303 cemeteries and 98 funeral homes across the United States and Puerto Rico.
StoneMor’s business is anything is not predictable. As none other than the great Benjamin Franklin noted, nothing can be said to be certain but death and taxes. And as the Baby Boomers—the largest generation in history—enter their golden years, end-of-life services are about to enjoy an unprecedented boom. Based on current life expectancies, the number of annual deaths in America will rise by more than 80% between 2015 and 2035. Even allowing for an increased preference for cremation over traditional burial, there is an incredible amount of growth all but guaranteed to come down the pipeline. And even better, we’re getting paid to wait: StoneMor pays an 8.4% distribution, and it has steadily raised its payout over the past ten years.
If the unpleasant association with death wasn’t enough, StoneMor has some other quirks that make it difficult for a lot of investors to own: It’s structured as a master limited partnership (“MLP”) and can generate unrelated business taxable income (“UBTI”), which makes it all but untouchable for an IRA or Roth IRA account. Its status as an MLP also makes StoneMor problematic for a lot of institutional investors and non-US persons to own.
There loss is our gain. StoneMor is a stable company that throws off a high and growing cash distribution. Buy it and plan to own it until… well… until you become one of StoneMor’s permanent residents.
Let’s now jump to something a little less macabre: Publicly-traded amusement park operator Cedar Fair, L.P. (NYSE:FUN). Cedar Fair owns and operates 14 regional amusement parks scattered across the US and Canada.
Cedar Fair does not really compete with destination parks like Disneyland or Walt Disney World. Its parks tend to cater to local population in mid-tier cities like Charlotte and Kansas City. This makes the parks a little less sensitive to the health of the economy and to fuel and transportation costs.
It takes a certain amount of chutzpah to make “FUN” your ticker symbol, though I have no doubt that investors have found holding the stock to be enjoyable: the share price has more than tripled since 2011. That performance is all the more impressive when you consider that the economy hasn’t exactly been humming along for most of that period.
Cedar Fair currently sports an attractive yield of 5.1%. While this high-dividend stock had to cut its distribution during the pits on the 2008-2009 crisis, it has been steadily raising it for the past four years.
Like StonMor, Cedar Fair is an MLP. This means that it gets to avoid a layer of corporate taxation, and it leaves more cash on hand to distribute to investors. But it also makes the stock hard to own for IRA owners and some institutional investors. But to the nimble individual investor, this presents a potential opportunity to buy what others can’t or won’t.
The GEO Group
We covered death…so why not imprisonment? Our next quirky high-dividend stock is publicly-traded prison operator The GEO Group Inc (NYSE:GEO).
Prison overcrowding in the US and other developed countries has been a problem for a long time. It seems that while taking a hard line on crime is popular with voters, paying to build new prisons is not. And herein lies the opportunity for GEO. The company owns, leases, and operates a range of correctional facilities, including, among other properties, maximum-security prisons.
This is distinctly not a feel-good stock to own. I would rank it up there with tobacco stocks and munitions makers on the scale of political incorrectness, and I wouldn’t expect to see it held by many “socially-responsible” mutual funds. But it has definitely been a profitable stock to own for investors that don’t mind playing the role of warden. The share price is up about 120% since the beginning of 2012.
GEO is also an attractive dividend stock with a current yield of 6.5%.
Is there anything to worry about here?
Actually, yes. GEO’s business model only makes sense so long as the prison population remains too large for America’s public prisons to handle. Were we to see a bigger move towards drug legalization, for example, GEO’s business model might legitimately be at risk. GEO has responded to this threat by expanding into immigration detention centers and into training and rehabilitation centers. But I would still consider it a long-term risk to take under consideration.
He may not be a prison warden, but to many of the companies he has targeted over the years he is certainly no less terrifying.
I’m taking, of course, about corporate-raider-cum-activist-investor Carl Icahn. Mr. Icahn is a living legend, and regular retail investors have the opportunity to invest with him via his holding company, Icahn Enterprises LP (NASDAQ:IEP).
Icahn Enterprises is definitely a quirky dividend stock, and it’s one that most investors shy away from due to its complexity. It has nine primary business segments including investment, automotive, energy, gaming, railcar, food packaging, metals, real estate and home fashion. And compounding the complexity, it is also organized as an MLP, making it hard to own for IRA investors and institutions.
Normally, I’d walk away from a conglomerate like this with no apparent rationale for its diverse holdings. But Icahn Enterprises is essentially a bet on the investment genius of Carl Icahn himself. This is his equivalent of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, and it’s the only real way to have Mr. Icahn invest your money. His hedge funds have been closed to outside money for years.
Icahn Enterprises more than quadrupled in value between its 2009 bottom and 2014 top, though it has lost about a quarter of its value since. This is due in no small part to Icahn’s large investments in the energy sector, which took a major shellacking. But at today’s prices, IEP pays a very respectable 6.6% distribution.
Plum Creek Timber
Next up is forestry REIT Plum Creek Timber Co. Inc. (NYSE:PCL). Plum Creek is one of America’s largest private landowners and owns more than six million acres of working forests. Plum Creek is also organized as a real-estate investment trust (“REIT”), making it something of a misfit for its sector. Most REITs own properties that generate rental income; Plum Creek owns timberland used to harvest trees.
Plum Creek isn’t quite as quirky as it used to be. Timberland was “discovered” as an asset class about a decade ago when it became publicized that David Swensen, Yale University’s legendary endowment fund manager, favored it as a long-term investment. Timber had become almost trendy and was very regularly recommended in investment newsletters… right up until the housing bust and market panic of 2008. The crisis took some of the shine off of the asset class.
All the same, timber remains a quirky asset class and one that has nature on its side. Unlike most natural resources, which are depleting, timber actually grows. During periodic rough patches in the construction industry, when demand for lumber falls, Plum Creek’s inventory of trees continue to grow and ultimately become bigger and more valuable to harvest when the market eventually turns around. Sure, you sacrifice cash flow today, and that makes for a lumpy profit stream. But lumpy profit streams are what create buying opportunities for astute value investors.
At current prices, Plum Creek yields an attractive 4.2%. And impressively, given the collapse of new construction, Plum Creek did not cut its dividend during or after the financial crisis. Once home construction starts to really ramp up again, I would expect to see healthy dividend growth from Plum Creek and its timber peers.
For our next off-the-beaten-path dividend stock, let’s take a look at EPR Properties (NYSE:EPR).
Like Plum Creek, EPR is organized as a REIT. This eliminates a layer of corporate taxation, and allows for a higher dividend. And also like Plum Creek, EPR is something of a misfit in the sector. Most REITs can be classified by broad sector, such as residential, commercial or office. But EPR’s portfolio consists of a hodgepodge of non-traditional assets, including movie theaters, golf driving ranges and charter schools.
It’s a niche market, to say the least, and one in which EPR has very little competition, at least from large, publicly-traded REITs. In management’s own words, EPR is a “diversified specialist” with unique knowledge that other REITs simply don’t have.
In a market in which most blue-chip REITs yield less than 5%, EPR is a high-yield gem. At current prices it yields a very impressive 6.2%. EPR had to reduce its dividend during the financial crisis, but it has been steadily raising it ever since. And starting in March of 2013, EPR started paying its dividend monthly rather than quarterly.
Like EPR properties, our last quirky dividend stock is also in the entertainment business. National CineMedia, Inc. (NASDAQ:NCMI) is one of those companies that most investors never knew existed.
We’re all familiar with the major movie studios and their blockbuster offerings. But National CineMedia specializes in all the disposable junk you watch before the movie. The company offers an advertising and entertainment pre-show to movies and advertising programming on its lobby entertainment network. National CineMedia and rival Screenvision essentially rule this niche market as a duopoly and have no other real competition.
National CineMedia started paying a dividend in 2007 and has done a decent job of raising it over the years. At current prices, the stock yields 5.6%.
The share price hasn’t done much in recent years; it has bounced around in a range of $15-$20 since 2009. But as a high-yielding dividend stock in a quirky niche market, National CineMedia is a stock to keep on your radar.