Unless you’ve recently set up residence in a cave, you’re well aware that stocks are doing pretty darn good right now. The Dow Jones Industrial Average is in record territory following a seven-day run, while the S&P 500 is floating around 1% to 2% away from its own new all-time high.
What you might not have heard about, though, is that dividend payments from the Dow’s 30 components are closing in on a record of their own.
According to data collected from FactSet Research, dividend payments reached $117 billion, or $347.43 per share, in February — only 7% below the 2007 record of $372.46 per share. The Dow has been rapidly picking up the pace ever since the financial crisis, which caused a dip in the overall tally as companies like General Electric (NYSE:GE) and Bank of America (NYSE:BAC) were forced to reduce or eliminate their dividends.
However, investors are concerned right now about the big run-up possibly putting stocks into dangerous (read: overvalued) territory — and they might end up passing on what are some strong long-term plays, even at current prices.
Here’s why they should be doing the exact opposite and put their money to work in some of the big-time payers of the Dow:
Large helpings of consistent income, over time, helps to cushion investors from some of the inevitable short-term potholes in (what ideally should be) at the very least slow but steady long-term appreciation.
Of course, there’s income, and then there’s income.
Some investors worried stocks are at their peak might be seeking out the former — the better-of-late-but-still-not-great 2.06% yield on 10-Year Treasuries, the paltry returns from money market funds … even the negative yields from Treasury Inflation Protected Securities, or TIPS.
Dow Jones stocks represent the latter — right now, they average a 2.8% yield, or 74 basis points better than those 10-Year T-Notes. And that’s on average. If you look among the top Dow dividend-paying stocks, you’ll find gems like AT&T (NYSE:T, 4.9% yield), Verizon (NYSE:VZ, 4.3%) and Intel (NASDAQ:INTC, 4.18%).
Sure, you can find higher yields in say, junk bonds or other assets, but remember — if you chase yield too high, you’re going to tack on a lot more risk as well. We don’t have to worry about Verizon falling off a cliff.
Room to Run
Those big Dow dividends could get even bigger, too. According to FactSet, the Dow 30 companies have a total of almost $500 billion in cash sitting around and waiting to be put to use. Examples include Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT, $60 billion), Cisco (NASDAQ:CSCO, $47 billion) and Pfizer (NYSE:PFE, $34 billion).
Meanwhile, the Dow currently pays out just 32% of its earnings in dividends, which is far under its 50-year historical average payout ratio of just under 50%.
Many of these slower-growth companies need to garner investor interest, and substantial payout increases — while not a lock — seem like a no-brainer.
Marc Bastow is an Assistant Editor at InvestorPlace.com. As of this writing, he was long GE, MSFT, XOM and VZ.