In the age of meme trades and rampant speculation, income stocks don’t exactly get the juices flowing. Generally defined as equity units of publicly traded companies that feature consistent (and hopefully rising) dividend payouts, we should be honest and admit that this investment class isn’t exactly sexy. But it’s also one of the more important sectors to consider given the present context.
For one thing, income stocks provide a strong measure of stability. As you know, one of the hottest sectors over the trailing year has been cryptocurrencies. When things are going well, you’re on top of the world. When they’re not, you want to find the deepest hole so you can crawl into it. With companies that pay dividends, though, you can always rely on something even when the market doesn’t go your way.
Second, the biggest threat to the equities sector and the economy could be deflation, which would favor income stocks over growth names. Now, I understand the social media chatter that scream incredulity when this topic comes out. I look at it this way. If inflation was the paradigm-shifting threat that we should worry about, then how come the Dow Jones Industrial Average has been flat to negative since early May?
Even more telling, why is the gold price down during the same period? Surely, in an inflationary environment, hard assets of intrinsic value should soar to the moon. Even if we don’t have inflation now, just the concept of professional investors anticipating it — and by the way, seemingly everybody is talking about inflation — should result in higher gold prices. If anything, we’re seeing lower prices, which should make you think about income stocks.
And that’s the point. Nobody has a crystal ball on this stuff, so you don’t want to swing for the fences toward any one narrative. But when everyone bets on the same horse, the possibility of great disappointment rises. Therefore, here are some income stocks to consider:
- Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT)
- Target (NYSE:TGT)
- Kimberly Clark (NYSE:KMB)
- McDonald’s (NYSE:MCD)
- Clearway Energy (NYSE:CWEN)
- Iron Mountain (NYSE:IRM)
- Crown Castle International (NYSE:CCI)
Again, I want to reiterate that no one knows for sure how the next several months will play out. But based on high-level indicators — for instance, record levels of stock trading on margin — having some exposure to defensive income stocks is wise.
Income Stocks: Microsoft (MSFT)
Once a transformative entity featuring equity units that traded for mere pennies, the days of Microsoft being a massive growth name are probably over. Don’t get me wrong, it pokes its head up every now and then. But certainly, people are not getting involved with MSFT stock as if it was the next hot cryptocurrency.
Instead, Microsoft is one of the income stocks you can depend on. True, even from a defensive angle, MSFT isn’t something to write home about. Presently, shares have a forward annualized yield of 0.82%, which is pedestrian compared to other dividend plays. Nevertheless, this consumer technology firm has attributes similar to consumer staples.
For instance, the business world runs on Microsoft’s software as a service (SaaS) platform. From word processors to spreadsheets to presentation slides to databases, Microsoft has you covered. If you don’t know how to work your way around its programs, you’re really at a disadvantage.
Also, Microsoft is a big name in the video game industry with its Xbox platform. With video games and the gig economy both increasing in relevance as a consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic, you can trust MSFT as one of your core income stocks.
Personally, I’m reluctant to buy into investments that are already well into a bullish rally. The thinking is that you’re going to buy at or near a high, only to watch the position crumble. But when it comes to big-box retailers, those who focus on income stocks may want to consider Target over rival Walmart (NYSE:WMT).
Yes, WMT is on a discount relative to its all-time high. In comparison, TGT stock is on a tear, posting record after record. Admittedly, there’s always that risk that a correction could take place, sending shares careening. Still, an argument exists that Target deserves its premium valuation.
Primarily, Target’s customers on average make more money than some of its rivals. In 2015, Target shoppers enjoyed a household income of $66,800, whereas the average Walmart shopper had a household salary of $56,000. That’s a sizable 19% gap, which may play a significant role moving forward.
That’s because we don’t know how this economic recovery will play out. If circumstances go awry, it’s better to be exposed to income stocks which are tied to a more resilient consumer base.
Income Stocks: Kimberly Clark (KMB)
Likely one of the most defensive income stocks you can buy for July — or perhaps any month of this year — buying Kimberly Clark is almost akin to acquiescence. In my opinion, by going long on KMB stock, you’re giving up the probability of attaining capital gains. Instead, you’re going for a steady stream of passive income.
Why am I so down on Kimberly Clark? Rest assured, it has nothing to do with the underlying business. But the reality is that Covid-19 played a major role in KMB’s resurgence last year. In the first quarter of 2020, the company generated revenue of just over $5 billion. In Q1 of this year, top-line sales were notably down at $4.74 billion, or a decline of more than 5%.
Obviously, with toilet paper and other household goods no longer a precious commodity, the panic buying of products undergirding KMB stock evaporated. Still, these are products that people need to buy no matter what. And that makes Kimberly Clark appealing as we head toward the unknown.
Also, let’s appreciate that KMB features a forward annualized yield of 3.4% and boasts 49 consecutive years of dividend increases.
A company that’s easy to be cynical about, McDonald’s is nevertheless quite intriguing if you’re in the market for income stocks. According to a report from PBS News Hour, “on average, Americans eat three hamburgers a week. That’s a national total of nearly 50 billion burgers per year.” This report came out in 2012; I’m willing to bet that, despite the influence of millennial health habits, this tally has increased since then.
I base this assessment on the obesity problem becoming a national security concern. Basically, young people are too heavy for military recruitment, which is an alarming statistic. If younger people were really focused on healthier eating, your local military recruiting office would love to find them.
It’s a terrible sentiment, but you must admit, this is a great catalyst for MCD stock. First, you can rely on the fundamentals of McDonald’s — selling fast food to the masses — to support MCD shares. Second, it’s one of the more reliable income stocks.
While the last-12-months yield of 2.2% is nothing special, McDonald’s can brag about 45 years of consecutive dividend increases.
Income Stocks: Clearway Energy (CWEN)
The inclusion of Clearway Energy requires a caveat: it barely has a dividend history at all, so you won’t usually find CWEN listed as one of the trusted income stocks. Nevertheless, I’m going to go out on a limb here and include it on the basis that it could be relevant.
Billed as one of the largest developers and operators of clean energy through wind and solar systems, Clearway Energy also provides energy storage solution. While going green has typically been a political issue, it’s becoming apparent that how people vote won’t do anything to affect rising water levels in the American southwest. Essentially, we may have to learn to adapt to climate change, which cynically bodes well for CWEN stock.
The issue of shifting weather patterns doesn’t have to involve high-level concepts. According to U.C. Davis, a single cow emits 220 pounds of methane into the atmosphere every year. This poses a rethink for our food supply chains, which may translate to a greater emphasis on plant-based protein.
No matter how you look at it, companies must be proactive about the climate issue, which ultimately aids Clearway Energy.
Iron Mountain (IRM)
Perhaps best known for its secure management services for vital paper documents and physical assets, you might initially assume Iron Mountain is losing relevance in the age of digitalization. But nothing could be further from the truth. Indeed, digitalization is one of the catalysts that will drive IRM shares higher, which makes Iron Mountain one of the most intriguing income stocks to buy.
While going digital is incredibly convenient, it also opens the door to infiltration. Further, recent high-profile cyberattacks prove that people can no longer depend on plausible deniability. If hackers can cause chaos for critical national infrastructure — as was the case with the Colonial Pipeline attack — it wouldn’t take much for businesses to fall prey to such nefarious activities. Therefore, it’s imperative that companies protect their documents and other valuable assets.
But IRM stock isn’t just a throwback to a bygone era. Rather, the underlying company understands the new security protocol and offers many relevant digital services such as secure cloud storage and migration for prospective clients. And with a forward annualized yield of 5.8%, IRM is an attractive passive income play.
Income Stocks: Crown Castle International (CCI)
Though next-level technologies such as 5G represent an inevitability, it can be incredibly difficult to pick out individual winners. That’s because with companies, you’re not just betting on the underlying industry but on how they execute in that industry. And execution can vary wildly between different organizations. Also, crazy stuff that has nothing to do with the target industry — say a lurid scandal impacting key executives — could impose severe volatility.
Therefore, if you’re looking for income stocks tied to relevant technologies, you should consider Crown Castle International. An infrastructure investment that plays a crucial role in the current 5G rollout, Crown Castle has exposure to over 40,000 towers in the U.S. through ownership, operating or leasing contracts. Further, its properties encompass every major domestic market, boding well for CCI stock.
To be fair, Crown Castle doesn’t offer the greatest rewards in terms of passive income, with a forward annualized yield of 2.67%. Still, it has a decent seven-year history of consecutive dividend increases. But in light of the critical 5G rollout, CCI stock offers a great balance between yield and upside potential.
On the date of publication, Josh Enomoto did not have (either directly or indirectly) any positions in the securities mentioned in this article. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer, subject to the InvestorPlace.com Publishing Guidelines.
A former senior business analyst for Sony Electronics, Josh Enomoto has helped broker major contracts with Fortune Global 500 companies. Over the past several years, he has delivered unique, critical insights for the investment markets, as well as various other industries including legal, construction management, and healthcare.