In case you hadn’t noticed, it’s rough out there. Europe still is quite the mess. China, while still growing, is looking a little suspect these days, and growth in much of the rest of the developing world — particularly in commodity-exporting countries like Brazil — depend on Chinese growth that might not materialize if present trends continue.
If you’re depending purely on growth to meet your investment goals, you might end up be sorely disappointed. Prudent investors instead should turn to something a little more reliable: income.
Traditional income investments like bonds and CDs pay virtually nothing in interest these days, but it still is possible to get a decent cash income return in the world’s stock markets. Let’s take a look at these five foreign dividend strongholds:
I’ll start with a Chinese company that should continue to prosper regardless of whether the Chinese economy makes a hard landing: China Mobile (NYSE:CHL).
China Mobile is the largest cellular phone provider in China. In a given year, its growth in new subscribers is greater than entire population of the United Kingdom. Again, that’s just the new subscribers; it says nothing of the 600 million existing subscribers.
China Mobile pays a safe 3.6% in dividends — substantially more than what the 10-year Treasury pays — and CHL’s dividend is almost certain to grow in the years ahead.
Even during hard economic times, consumers are unlikely to surrender their mobile phones; many would sooner leave their electric bill unpaid and sit in the dark than be unconnected in a connected world.
This brings me to my next recommendation, Spain’s Telefonica (NYSE:TEF). Telefonica has been a favorite of the Sizemore Investment Letter for years, and for good reason. In addition to being one of Europe’s leaders in mobile telecom, Telefonica is in a two-dog race with Carlos Slim’s America Movil (NASDAQ:AMOV) for dominance of the fast-growing Latin American market. At just 7 times expected 2012 earnings, Telefonica is one of the cheapest companies in the world. It also pays a spectacular 9.8% in dividends.
Next on the list is Swiss confectionery giant Nestle (PINK:NSRGY). Nestle is one of the safest and most stable companies in the world. In addition to selling staple products — everything from packaged food to instant coffee — that consumers will buy in good times or bad, it has a conservative and well-respected management team based in Switzerland.
While there might be no such thing as a true “buy and forget” investment, Nestle might be the closest I’ve ever seen. At a current dividend yield of 3.4%, Nestle represents an incredible value.
I would say much the same about Anglo-Dutch consumer products company Unilever (NYSE:UL). This stodgy old maker of packaged foods and personal care products happens to get the majority of its sales from fast-growing emerging markets and expects to get 70% of its revenues from emerging markets within a few years. Unilever pays a dividend of 3.7% and has a long history of raising its dividend over time.
Like Nestle, Unilever is about as close as you can get to a “buy and forget” investment.
Philip Morris International
My last recommendation — Philip Morris International (NYSE:PM) — is not technically a foreign stock, as it is based in the United States. Still, as the entirety of its revenues come from overseas, I think it’s fair to lump Philip Morris in with the rest of these solid international picks.
While smoking is in terminal decline in the United States, it still is quite popular in many emerging markets, from which PM gets roughly half of its sales. As incomes rise, local consumers are trading up from cheaper local brands to premium foreign brands like Marlboro.
I’ve written before about the virtues of investing in vice, and I continue to view tobacco stocks as excellent long-term investments. With a dividend of 3.8% and growing, Philip Morris International is a stock you don’t want to miss.
We might yet see robust growth in 2012, dear reader. I certainly hope we do; after a volatile year like 2011, it feels good to be in a bull market again. But then, that growth might well prove to be fleeting. Given the macro risks coming out of Europe and beyond, it is a mistake to depend too heavily on growth that might or might not come to pass.
The good news is that with a properly constructed dividend stock portfolio, you can earn a respectable return in either event.
Charles Lewis Sizemore, CFA, is the editor of the Sizemore Investment Letter, and the chief investment officer of investments firm Sizemore Capital Management. As of this writing, he did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities. Sign up for a FREE copy of his new special report: “4 Dividend Stocks to Buy and Forget.”