By Matt Doiron
Income investors like to start by looking at stocks with high dividend yields, but the search doesn't (and shouldn't) end there. Dividend stocks become considerably more attractive if the dividend is perceived as fairly safe; namely, that the company is expected to at least maintain its current level of earnings going forward and so will not have to cut its dividend to maintain operations. In addition, it's always good to compare a stock's valuation to its earnings (particularly as markets have bid up high-yield stocks in recent quarters). Here are the five stocks with the lowest P/E ratios out of those which satisfy the joint criteria of a yield of at least 3%, a market cap of at least $2 billion, and expected earnings per share growth rate of at least 0% over the next year:
At current prices and dividend levels, Seagate Technology (STX) pays a dividend yield of 3.5%. Analysts claim that earnings will be stable, though revenue was down 21% in its most recent quarter compared to the same period in the previous fiscal year and net income fell over 60%; as a result, we're less than confident in their optimism. We track quarterly 13F filings from hundreds of hedge funds and other notable investors, using the included information as part of our work developing investment strategies (we have found, for example, that the most popular small cap stocks among hedge funds outperform the S&P 500 by an average of 18 percentage points per year). We can also use our database to check interest from top managers in particular stocks, and can see that billionaire David Einhorn's Greenlight Capital owned 5.4 million shares of Seagate at the end of March even after cutting its stake by 36% during Q1 (find Einhorn's favorite stocks).
$2.3 billion market cap communication equipment company Exelis (XLS) is another stock whose dividend yield (of 3.4%) might be considered safe as the sell-side is forecasting little damage to the bottom line in 2014. Specifically, Exelis trades at 8 times earnings, whether we consider trailing numbers or consensus estimates for next year. However, as with Seagate we are skeptical that analysts will be correct with revenue and earnings down at double-digit rates from their levels a year ago. We'd also note that the stock has a fairly high beta of 1.8. We don't think the high yield is enough of a reason to buy.
With gold miner IAMGOLD (IAG) making two dividend payments of 12.5 cents per share each year, that stock's dividend yield is 4.7% as the stock price has fallen 53% year to date. That plunge has been due to poor conditions in the gold market, which has significantly harmed the company's business. Wall Street analysts are expecting IAMGOLD's earnings per share to recover somewhat, valuing the company at 8 times forward estimates. Of course, we'd also be worried here that the company's decline will continue though the stock could be an alternative for any investors who expect gold to rise.
The Street is also looking for stable financial performance at Safeway (SWY), where investors can currently find a yield of 3.5%. The grocery store is valued at a forward earnings multiple of 10, placing it in value territory if those projections are correct, and sales were flat in the first quarter of 2013 versus a year earlier with margins expanding slightly. We would note, however, that a number of market players are bearish on Safeway: according to the most recent data, 23% of the float is held short. Still, we'd be interested in comparing it to other grocers.
Rounding out our list is Chevron (CVX), which currently pays a yield of 3.3% and manages a forward P/E of 10 as well. We'd note that other oil majors trade at similar levels as the market expects low earnings growth; while analyst expectations are low, they do expect Chevron to at least maintain its business over the next year or so. Fisher Asset Management, managed by billionaire Ken Fisher, reported a position of 3.6 million shares at the end of March (see Fisher's stock picks). Chevron looks worthy of further research, though some peers such as BP offer higher- though riskier- yields.