August was agonizing, to say the least. The volatility-laden indexes have scared the heck out of investors, and now everyone is asking the same question: “What am I supposed to buy now?”
Well, one option is to follow Warren Buffett into banking stocks. Buffett — via Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE:BRK.A) — just plunked down $5 billion for a stake in Bank of America (NYSE:BAC), which immediately forced investors to start looking at the industry.
I have respect for Buffett, but you shouldn’t follow in his footsteps on this one. Buffett got a special preferred-stock deal on Bank of America that other investors can’t get, so you’d be taking a huge risk that Buffett is not.
In fact, don’t buy bank stocks at all — I don’t. I’m a former banking analyst; I know better. I don’t have time to go through all the reasons why I don’t trust banks’ accounting, but I can tell you that the numbers aren’t there. There’s no earnings growth, buying pressure or any of the important fundamental data points you need for a solid investment.
What I would recommend you do is get serious about the real trends in this market, and when you look at the options investors have right now, there’s only one place for them to go this September — dividend stocks.
I can almost see the eyes rolling and hear the yawns coming out, but the truth is the biggest wealth-builders this month are going to be from the big dividend-payers. Let’s face it: Because of the carnage in August, there has been a flight — no, make that an all-out stampede — to quality. Investors simply can’t afford to get burned again, and they are heading for safety.
In a typical year, that would push them into Treasuries. But it’s just not an option here at the end of 2011. With two-year Treasuries yielding a paltry 0.38%, and some big-named reliable blue chips yielding more than 5%, the money is going to flock to the biggest yields — and that means it’s going into the stock market.
Did you know that the entire Standard & Poor’s 500 Index now has a higher dividend yield than 10-year Treasury bonds? Furthermore, the S&P 500’s earnings are now at a record high while price-to-earnings ratios are below previous cyclical lows. It’s a no-brainer for investors to head back into the market and straight into the arms of big-dividend stocks.
And the best stocks with the strongest dividends right now are tobacco companies. While some people will take issue with investing in tobacco companies, you can’t argue with the cash they are pouring out to investors. Here are two you should buy this month:
Altria Group (NYSE:MO) is the largest tobacco company in the United States, controlling about half of America’s tobacco market. The company’s most popular brand — Marlboro — has been the world’s best-selling cigarette for almost four decades. Altria also is in the cigar and smokeless tobacco business, and it has interests in wine via its subsidiary Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, a fast-growing, top-10 premium wine producer. The company also has a 27% stake in the South African brewer SABMiller.
What led me to Altria was the 5.8% dividend and the steady rise in earnings — this quarter’s revenue knocked out consensus estimates of $4.4 billion. Net revenue for the cigarettes segment increased 2.1% year-over-year to $5.7 billion. Altria has outperformed the S&P 500 every year since 2000 and was ranked No. 1 in the 2010 Barron’s 500, an annual list of the top-performing companies in the country. And the dividend is rock-solid. The company has increased its dividend 44 times in the past 42 years. This makes it a compelling buy right now.
My second tobacco dividend pick is Philip Morris International (NYSE:PM). This company makes seven of the top 15 brands of tobacco products in the world and sells its cigarettes in 160 countries. The company boasts at least 15% of the international cigarette market outside the U.S. Until 2008, Philip Morris actually was a part of my first recommendation, Altria Group.
Since its separation from Altria, Philip Morris has gone on an international shopping spree by acquiring additional cigarette and smokeless tobacco manufacturers. The company also has been aggressively buying back its stock (e.g., $1.36 billion in the first quarter) to boost its underlying earnings per share.
The company also has been aggressively raising new corporate debt at low interest rates to fund its aggressive acquisition campaign and to continue to buy back its outstanding stock. Add in the fact that PM has a 3.7% dividend yield and you have several compelling reasons why this stock is a favorite among investors.
In the second quarter, revenue soared from $7.06 billion to $8.27 billion, a 17% year-over-year increase. Since 2010, earnings jumped from $1.98 billion, or $1.07 per share, to $2.41 billion, or $1.35 per share. This represents a 22% leap in total net income, and a 26% increase in EPS. Earnings per share also trumped analysts’ predictions of $1.21, a 12% earnings surprise. The dividend, the earnings and the fact shares are up 34% in the past 12 months are all reasons why investors will flock to the stock.
Now, if you just can’t bring yourself to buy these two companies on principle, I understand, and I have another great dividend stock that is not in the tobacco industry. Companhia de Bebidas das Americas (NYSE:ABV) is translated to “the American Beverage Company” and commonly is known simply as AmBev. This company dominates the Brazilian beer market with brands such as Antarctica, Brahma and Skol. Additionally, the company sells Pepsi brands, Lipton iced tea and other beverages that include mineral water and sports drinks. Along with Brazil, AmBev sells its products in 13 other countries, including the South and Central American nations of Argentina, Peru, Ecuador, Uruguay and Venezuela.
This company is a great buy for two reasons: First of all, beer and soft drinks are consumer staples that have seen strong sales even during tough times. Secondly, AmBev is benefiting from the fact the Brazilian real has appreciated dramatically against the U.S. dollar. When Brazil’s currency surges against the greenback, this company’s sales and profits get a significant boost because of favorable exchange rates.
The stock is up more than 50% in the past 12 months, and the dividend yield is a solid 4.7% ($1.43 in dividend payments in the last four quarters).
The bottom line is that the big money is going to be on the move this month. Buyers are returning from their summer hiatus and they have very few options for their money. This is your opportunity to recognize that fact and be out in front of the trend to maximize your gains. My advice is to stick to high-yield, high-growth stocks like Altria Group, Philip Morris International and Companhia de Bebidas das Americas as they are the best alternative to Treasuries and will experience the most buying pressure in the weeks to come.
Louis Navellier is a 30-year veteran of Wall Street and editor of the Blue Chip Growth and Emerging Growth stock newsletters. At the time of publication, Louis Navellier held positions in Altria Group, Philip Morris International and Companhia de Bebidas das Americas.