I’m always looking for ways to generate income for my retirement days, but searching for those solid long-term dividend plays can be time-consuming. That’s especially true these days, as years of low yields — thanks to Ben Bernanke and the Fed — have forced income investors into buying the well-known dividend stalwarts — driving up their prices.
So, it pays to screen for companies outside the mainstream with a long history of strong dividend growth, and I’ve latched on to one I’ve liked for some time: W.W. Grainger (NYSE:GWW).
Founded in Chicago in 1928, Grainger is a distributor of facilities maintenance and other industrial and commercial supplies, including pumps, tools, motors and electrical and safety products, to over 2 million customers. It distributes products from abrasives to welding, and everything in between. Grainger works with 3,500 suppliers to offer over 1 million products.
The facilities maintenance market is estimated at around $140 billion, and GWW claims a 4% share through its 724 branches, 18 regional warehouses and 30 distribution centers. Grainger’s 369 U.S. branch stores represent 80% of its $8.1 billion in revenues. The company also offers its product lines through the Grainger Catalog — which has now outlasted the famous catalog from Chicago icon Sears (NASDAQ:SHLD) — and on its e-commerce site.
Now, let’s get to the meat of the matter: Building retirement income takes (among other things) steady to growing revenues and earnings- and dividend-producing power. Grainger is among the very best at both.
Consider the following about GWW:
- Earnings growth of nearly 15% over the past 10 years
- Increased dividends for 40 consecutive years
- 15.2% annual compound rate for dividends over the last 10 years
- 300% shareholder return over the past 10 years
Impressive. Look at Grainger’s 10-year chart for revenue, gross profit and net income growth:
Net income levels have run fairly flat over the last 10 years primarily due to expenses incurred in expanding overseas and broadening product lines. The good news is the line doesn’t turn south at any point, and both revenues and gross margins continue to trend up.
Grainger’s press release for the third quarter provides positive guidance for fiscal 2012, with sales anticipated to rise 11% to 12% and earnings per share also up around 12%. Bottom line: These graph lines should continue their trends.
On the dividend side, since initiating its payout in 1965, Grainger has never missed a quarterly dividend, and it has grown from 18 cents per share in 2002 to 80 cents per share for the dividend paid in November 2012. That’s solid, consistent growth.
Of course, long-term dividend stability is critical to retirement portfolios, and for that cash and cash flow are King and Queen. Grainger provides both, with its most recent quarter-end (9/30/12) showing free cash flow of $280 million compared to $206 million in 2011, and cash and equivalents at $420 million compared to $360 million over those periods.
Put all that together, and you have one solid-performing, dividend-paying stalwart. Now, I get that a 1.55% dividend yield doesn’t move the needle much, but that’s a function of a strong share price for GWW, which trades at just over 22x trailing 12-month earnings, and at around 17x estimated 2013 earnings.
Still, it’s also nice to have some sanity-check company when picking stocks for retirement, and I’ve got one from Parsimony Investment Research, which provides the following info on Grainger in picking it for a top-5 spot on its All-Aristocrat Team (based on Standard & Poor’s Dividend Aristocrats):
Notice one of the keys to dividend health for long-term investors: The dividend payout ratio stands at a nice 30.5% for 2012 and clearly has room to grow.
Of course, Grainger could hit any number of ruts in the road: The auto supply stores such as AutoZone (NYSE:AZO) and Advance Auto (NYSE:AAP), and industrial and construction parts supply competition from Fastenal (NASDAQ:FAST) and MSC Industrial Direct (NYSE:MSM) can eat into sales and profits. Plus, expansion takes money, and when it’s borrowed, that means interest expense.
But Grainger has so far handled those challenges well, and I think it’s a solid buy for your retirement portfolio money.
Marc Bastow is an Assistant Editor at InvestorPlace.com. As of this writing he did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.