Scott Fields

About the Author Scott Fields

A media and finance professional with four years experience at Australia’s largest business newspaper: As a journalist, I have covered major economic and financial events, in depth and in a timely manner, building strong relationships with senior executive. I am twice the recipient of Citigroup’s Journalism Award for Excellence in Financial Markets coverage. Prior to my current role I held the role of senior editor at a capital markets publication and worked on the bond syndicate desk at a major bank.

Top Analysts’ 3 Favorite Dividend Stocks for 2020

Savvy investors are always on the lookout for high-return stocks. These are the investments that will bring the most bang for the buck, through a combination of share appreciation and dividend income. By pursuing a dual strategy, with returns based on both share gains and company profits, investors can protect their portfolio from market downturns. While that may not seem important now, after the S&P 500 rose 29% in 2019, remember that Wall Street forecasts 2020 with lower gains, in the 3% to 5% range for the full year.

But choosing the right dividend stock can be a trick all its own. High dividends and high share appreciation don’t often go hand-in-hand. Dividend payments are, by nature, a conservative strategy for companies to use, and as a rule of thumb the more conservative companies are less likely to show the high share gains that will equal a profitable portfolio. So, it may be better to focus on companies with mid-range dividend payments, that outdo the market average (about 2% yield, among S&P listed firms), but still offer a solid supplement for investors.

We wanted to see what Wall Street’s top analysts think of this idea. We opened up TipRanks’ Analysts’ Top Stocks tool, which highlights great investments tagged by top-performing analysts. Using their insights, we’ve picked out three Strong Buy stocks with a combination of higher-than-average upside potential and dividend payment.

Restaurant Brands International (QSR)

First on the list is a Canadian-based fast-food holding company, formed in 2014 when American burger giant Burger King merged with Canada’s iconic Tim Hortons. After purchasing Popeyes, the popular chain of fried chicken restaurants, Restaurant Brands International became the fifth largest fast food company in the world, with a market cap of $20 billion and upwards of $5.4 billion in annual revenue.

The company showed solid performance in the fourth quarter of 2019, beating both the top and bottom line estimates. Revenue was reported at $1.48 billion, beating the $1.46 billion consensus by 1.3%, and more importantly, growing 6.8% year-over-year. EPS beat the current forecast by 2.7%, and grew 10.3% to reach 75 cents. All told, it was the kind of performance that makes investors happy. The company’s Burger King division powered the quarter with solid growth performances, while the Popeyes division showed the strongest sales gain.

QSR kept up its dividend in the quarter, paying out 52 cents per share. This makes the annual payment $2.08, and gives a yield of 3.09%. It may not sound like much, but the yield is some 50% higher than average, and the company has a long history of reliably paying out dividend. It has raised the payment three times in the last three years. The 69% payout ratio shows a commitment by the company to both sharing profits and keeping the payment sustainable – good signs for income-minded investors.

Writing on QSR for Piper Sandler, 5-star analyst Nicole Miller Regan said of the company’s path forward, “The Burger King concept is a powerful engine of growth considering 9% systemwide growth based on more than 1,000 new stores as well as an almost +2% comp for the year… Popeyes experienced a pivotal year in terms of +12% same store sales and successful development of more than 200 new units that lends itself to an increased pipeline of global development. Finally, a digital transformation is underway at the corporate level that should serve to benefit all brands.” Regan’s price target on QSR, $80, supports her Buy rating and indicates an 18% upside potential. (To watch Regan’s track record, click here)

Jeff Bernstein from Barclays, another 5-star analyst, agrees that investors should be bullish on QSR. He writes, “QSR delivered in 2019, with top- to bottom-line growth in-line with their historical algorithm, which equates to their ‘long-term’ guidance… BK comp likely improved to start 2020, and PLK comp remains outsized… The QSR portfolio has fundamental growth among the strongest in the segment.” Bernstein also complements his Buy rating with an $80 price target. (To watch Bernstein’s track record, click here)

QSR backs its Strong Buy analyst consensus rating with no fewer than 13 positive reviews from recent weeks, against just 2 Holds and 1 Sell. The stock is selling for $66.35, and the average price target of $75.09 suggests an upside potential of 13%. (See Restaurant Brands stock analysis at TipRanks)

MetLife, Inc. (MET)

Our second stock up today is a major name in the insurance industry. MetLife is a $47 billion company, offering a wide array of insurance products to 90 customers in over 60 countries. MetLife’s products include life and disability insurance, dental plans, and auto and home insurance. The company is also one of the world’s largest annuity providers. In recent years, MetLife has also introduced an insurance product to protect against identity theft. Insurance is one of the ‘necessary’ products in today’s economy, existing to product the finances of individuals and corporation. As such, it’s a profitable industry; MetLife did $67.9 billion in business in fiscal 2018.

MET reported its Q4 2019 earnings last week, showing solid results and a year-over-year gain in net income. For the quarter, net earnings came in at $1.8 billion, up 38% sequentially, and equating to $1.98 per share. This beat the estimates by 41%. Full year income was $5.7 billion, giving an EPS of $6.06. This was a 23% year-over-year gain. Shares in the stock are up 23% in the past 12 months.

Solid financial results support a solid dividend, and MET delivers on that score. The company pays out 44 cents quarterly, or $1.76 per share annually. This gives the stock a yield of 3.36% and a payout ratio of just 22%. MET has a 7-year history of slowing growing the dividend, maintaining it an easily sustainable level with an attractive yield.

RBC analyst Mark Dwelle, who rates 5 stars from TipRanks, sees MET as a strong choice for investors. He writes of the company, “The company remains well positioned for 2020 and we remain positive about the company’s plans for growth, expense reductions and significant capital return. Relative to peers, Met is somewhat less interest-rate sensitive and accordingly we think it is an attractive idea within the life insurance sector.”

Dwelle’s $57 price target indicates his confidence in 9% growth for the coming year, supporting his Buy rating on the stock. (To watch Dwelle’s track record, click here)

The analyst consensus on MET, a Strong Buy rating, is based on 6 Buys and just a single Hold set in recent months. The average price target, $58.86, suggests a 13% premium from the current share price of $51.98. (See MetLife’s stock analysis at TipRanks)

Valero Energy Corporation (VLO)

The energy industry is a cash-rich sector that has faced recent headwinds. High overhead, low product prices, and government regulation have all pushed down on energy profits. As the Presidential election year heats up, there are lingering worries about the Democratic Party’s push farther to the left, and adoption of anti-fossil fuel policies. Valero, a player in the midstream and downstream sectors of the energy business, has been managing those obstacles and bringing in profits.

In Q4 of last year, VLO beat both the earnings and revenue estimates, and showed a modest year-over-year gain in EPS. The bottom-line number, at $2.13 per share, was 33% above the forecast, and a half-percent better than the prior year. Revenues were posted at $27.88 billion, down 3% yoy but 1% over expectations. Shares fell sharply after the January 30 earnings release, but have since regained half of the losses.

The firm dividend situation may be helping to calm investors on this stock. With a 43% payout ratio, there is no worry about sustainability here – Valero can afford its dividend payment of 98 cents. The $3.92 annualized payment makes the yield 4.74%, well over double the S&P average, and roughly triple the yield of US Treasury bonds. VLO raised its dividend for the next payment, marking the third increase in three years. The company has a 10-year history of dividend growth.

Wall Street sees smoother sailing for VLO going forward. Wolfe Research’s 5-star analyst Sam Margolin writes, “Refining margins on the Gulf Coast and North Atlantic were stronger than we’d modeled, while the MidCon and West Coast margins were in line with our expectations. Renewable diesel and ethanol segments both beat as well. 2020 capex guidance of $2.5B was reiterated and the throughput guide for 1Q implies seasonally normal turnaround activity.” Margolin’s $122 price target is aggressive, implying a robust upside of 47% in support of his Buy rating. (To watch Margolin’s track record, click here)

Phil Gresh, a 5-star analyst from JPMorgan, agrees that VLO has strong prospects. He said of the stock, “[T]he company continued to demonstrate capture rate resiliency in all regions. Looking ahead, we expect that IMO 2020 should be a tailwind for VLO, particularly on the Gulf Coast, even if clean product crack spreads are sluggish for the broader industry, aided by feedstock benefits.” Gresh put a Buy rating on VLO, and his $101 price target indicates room for 22% growth this year. (To watch Gresh’s track record, click here)

Valero, like the other stocks in this list, shows a Strong Buy analyst consensus. This one is unanimous, based on 8 Buy ratings wet in recent weeks. VLO also has the highest upside potential of the stocks on this list, at 30%. The stock sells for $82.77, and the average price target is $101.71. (See Valero stock analysis at TipRanks)

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