A "Dividend Aristocrat" is a publicly traded company that is in the S&P 500 and that has increased its dividend every year for at least 25 consecutive years. Aristocrats must also have a market capitalization of at least $3 billion and an average daily trading volume of at least $5 million for the first six months prior to the aristocrat rebalancing date.
Not all aristocrats have huge dividends. In fact, the vast majority of the market's higher yielding equities are not aristocrats, though a few are. About 90 percent of the aristocrats have a yield below four percent, with several providing yields below the broader market average. Despite the below average yield so many now offer, that dividend has a history of increasing and a strong likelihood of being increased again in 2012.
On Wednesday, January 25, 2012, Ben Bernanke extended the Federal Funds Rate policy of attempting to keep interest rates near zero through 2014. This policy update appears likely to motivate income oriented investors to increase allocations into U.S. Treasury alternatives, including options that have historically increased their payouts, such as the Dividend Aristocrats.
Several of the dividend aristocrats performed rather poorly in 2011 and may be due for a reversion to their prior highs as investors allocate back into the perceived income stability and probable growth of an aristocrat's payout.
Below, I have listed the recent performance review for the five Dividend Aristocrats that are the furthest from their 52-week highs: Walgreen Co (WAG), Pitney Bowes Inc (PBI), Archer Daniels Midland Co (ADM), Franklin Resources Inc (BEN) and Leggett & Platt (LEG). I have provided their 2012-to-date performance rates as current yields, as well as their 3-month and 1-year performance rates. I have also listed how far each has fallen from their 52-week high.
These companies have all appreciated between about ten and twenty-five percent from their 52-week lows, but such increases are all generally well below the broader market's average performance during the same period. Moreover, all but WAG are down compared to where they were both three months ago, and all are down compared to one year ago.
Again, Dividend Aristocrats have a history of increasing their dividends each year. Such increases, this year, could act as a catalyst for a future move upwards, possibly back to their prior highs. Alternatively, some of these businesses may be in a period of decline, and a dividend increase may not persuade additional investors to buy, given that potential capital losses will outweigh payouts.
S&P has also created a Dividend Aristocrats ETF (SDY), which now has a yield of about 3.2 percent. Below is a chart of its recent market performance: