There are companies that raise dividends, and then there are companies that raise dividends at increasing rates of growth. The companies that boost dividends at accelerating rates of growth usually do so because of stronger operating results that produce growth in earnings and cash flows. Below are four companies that have been generating abundant free cash flow, which has enabled them to hike dividends at faster rates in 2012 than on average each year over the past five years.
Cracker Barrel Old Country Store (CBRL) is a $1.3 billion restaurant business and store operator with 604 store locations in 42 U.S. states. The company pays an annual dividend with a yield of 2.80% on a low payout ratio of 27%. The company's peers, namely Darden Restaurants (DRI) and Yum! Brands (YUM), pay dividends yielding 3.24% and 1.60%, respectively. Another of its peers, Biglari Holdings (BH), does not pay any dividends.
The company has been raising its dividend at an average annual rate of 12.1% a year over the past five years. This year, Cracker Barrel Old Country Store hiked its quarterly dividend by an astonishing 60% to $0.40 a share. The company generated ample free cash flow, which on a trailing-twelve-month basis has doubled compared to that realized in 2011. Interestingly, in April 2012, the company adopted a poison pill in order to deflect a possible takeover by competitor Biglari Holdings. Among famous fund managers, Mario Gabelli and Joel Greenblatt have negligible positions in the company.
Coca-Cola Enterprises (CCE) is an $8.2 billion producer, marketer, and distributor of non-alcoholic beverages under the Coca-Cola brand and other popular names. The company has a dividend yield of 2.30% on a low payout ratio of 23%. The company's rival Dr Pepper Snapple Group (DPS) pays a dividend yield of 3.40%, while Monster Beverage Corporation (MNST) does not pay any dividends.
Coca-Cola Enterprises has increased dividends at an average rate of 18% per year over the past five years. This year, the company boosted its quarterly dividend by 23.1% to $0.16 a share. The Coca-Cola marketer has seen strong free cash flow in each year of at least the last ten years. Recently, rumors emerged that Coca-Cola (KO) was in talks to acquire Monster Beverage Corporation, but the popular drinks giant denied those rumors. Guru investor Joel Greenblatt had a minor stake in the company at the end of the first quarter of 2012, while financier George Soros sold out his stake late last year (check out George Soros' portfolio).
Exxon Mobil (XOM) is a U.S.-based oil and natural gas giant, with a market capitalization of some $386.5 billion. The company pays a dividend yield of 2.80% on a low payout ratio of 23%. Key players in the industry, such as Chevron (CVX) and ConocoPhillips (COP), yield 3.6% and 5.1%, respectively. The company has boosted its dividend at an average rate of 8.6% a year over the past five years. This April, the energy giant hiked its quarterly dividend payout by 21% to $0.57 a share.
The company generates enormous cash flow that provides ample room for additional substantial increases in dividends. According to an analyst at Macquarie Capital Ltd., Exxon Mobil is likely to boost its dividend by another 20% over the next year. The latest dividend hike with a total of $10.75 billion in dividends paid to shareholders makes Exxon Mobil the single largest corporate dividend payer, followed by AT&T (T). The company is popular with Ken Fisher and Donald Yacktman(see billionaire Ken Fisher's stock picks).
Omnicom Group (OMC) is a $13.6 billion marketing and communications services company. The company pays a dividend yield of 2.40% on a payout ratio of 31%. The company's competitors, including Interpublic Group of Companies (IPG) and Focus Media (FMCN), yield 2.20% and 2.10%, respectively. Competitor Lamar Advertising Company (LAMR) does not pay any dividends.
Omnicom Group has raised its dividend by 16% a year, on average, over the past five years. This year, the company boosted the quarterly dividend payout by 20% to $0.30 a share. The firm has shown exceptionally strong free cash flow each year in the past decade. In 2011, Omnicom was paying only 25% of its free cash flow in dividends. Thus, the company appears to have plenty of maneuvering space to bolster its dividend in the future. First Eagle Investment Management, which owns more than 8.3 million shares in Omnicom, is especially bullish about the company.
Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.