Beyond Yield: Examining 7 Dividend Stocks' Total Return Potential

Includes: BMY, EPD, KMP, LLY, MRK, PFE, SO
by: Dividendinvestr

With money market rates at all-time lows, investors are looking for better places to put their money. Some are buying up pharmaceutical stocks, like Merck (NYSE:MRK), Eli Lilly (NYSE:LLY), Pfizer (NYSE:PFE) and Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE:BMY), which pay dividend yields over 4%. Others look towards utilities stocks, like Enterprise Products Partners (NYSE:EPD), the Southern Company (NYSE:SO) and Kinder Morgan Energy Partners (NYSE:KMP), which pay dividends just as high, if not higher.

These strategies to find high income stocks have two things in common - a focus on consistent returns and high dividends - but these are just general parameters. Selecting which stocks to invest in is another matter. There is more than just the dividend yield to consider. The stock also has to be priced well.

Let's take a closer look at these dividend-yielding stocks to see which are the better investments at current stock prices.

Kinder Morgan Energy Partners has a $29.44 billion market cap and offers a 5.30% dividend yield. The company is currently priced at 34.66 times its forward earnings, which is high. KMP recently traded at $88.11, higher than its mean one-year target estimate of $80.17 a share, a loss of over 10%, suggesting that analysts are bearish on this stock. As such, if analysts are correct in their predictions, investors in KMP would actually lose money (roughly over 4%) buying the stock at its current price.

The Southern Co. has a market cap of $38.79 billion and pays a 4.20% dividend yield. Right now, SO is priced at 16.87 times its forward earnings, not a bad price, but it is trading at $45.09 a share with a one-year target estimate of $45.18. As such, analysts see only a small amount of growth going forward, meaning the only benefit investors are likely to see is the 4.20% dividend yield.

Enterprise Products Partners has a $42.64 billion market cap. It pays a 5.10% dividend yield and is priced at 21.59 times its forward earnings, a relatively high figure. EPD recently traded at $48.98 a share. Analysts predict the stock will reach $50.21 a share in the next year, an increase of roughly 2.50%. All in all, if the predictions are correct, an investor buying a position in EPD today would enjoy a return of roughly 7.50% over the next year (the 5.10% dividend yield plus the 2.50% projected share price increase).

Merck & Co. is a $118.56 billion market cap company. It has a 4.30% dividend yield and is priced low at 10.12 times its forward earnings. MRK recently traded at $38.95 a share. Analysts give the company a one-year target estimate of $39.83 share, representing an increase of just over 2.20%. As such, an investor buying into MRK at its current pricing with its current predictions would enjoy a return of 6.50% in the next year (4.30% dividend yield plus 2.20% expected share price increase).

Eli Lilly & Co. has a $43.84 billion market cap. It pays a 4.90% dividend yield and is currently priced at 12.35 times its forward earnings. LLY recently traded at $39.42 a share. Analysts give the stock a one-year target estimate of $37.93, a loss of almost 4%, indicating a bearish outlook on the company. Investors would make less than 1% if analyst predictions are correct.

Pfizer, Inc. has a market cap of $165.58 billion. It pays a 4.00% dividend yield and is priced at 9.40 times its future earnings. In addition to the dividends, analysts predict a share price increase of roughly 11.7% over the next year, moving from its current price of $21.57 a share to its one-year target estimate of $24.09. Combined, PFE has expected upside of roughly 15% (the 11.7% predicted share price increase plus the 4.00% dividend yield).

Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. is a $54.83 billion market cap company. It has a 4.20% dividend yield and is priced at 16.40 times its forward earnings. Analysts predict a modest upside for BMY. It is recently traded at $32.38 a share and carries a one-year target estimate of $33.31 a share - an increase of around 3%. This upside combined with its dividend yield means that, assuming analyst predictions are correct, investors would enjoy an increase of 7.20% on their investments in the company if buying in right now.

We recommend buying Pfizer and avoiding the other six stocks. Pfizer is the only high dividend stock that can deliver strong returns in 2012. It has the highest anticipated growth and a modest dividend. Even if the company fails to achieve the 11.7% price increase forecasted by analysts, it will still likely beat out the other companies on our list including those with high forecast upside, like BMY's 7.20% or EPD's 7.50%.

More importantly, this simple comparison serves to illustrate the importance of looking beyond the dividend yield - PFE had had the lowest dividend yield of the companies we looked at here, but it has the highest predicted performance. The other six stocks should be avoided if you are investing to receive high capital gains as well as high dividends.

Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.

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