The Best Dividend Stocks To Buy During The Rate Cut Rally

by: Dividend Sensei

The rate cut rally has helped drive the S&P 500 up 8.7% since May. The market appears to be in a "bad news is good news" mode.

This creates heightened risks, especially since EPS growth forecasts for 2019 and 2020 continue to decline. Economic data points to a 40% chance of a recession within 12 months.

This weekly watchlist series explains how to select potentially great long-term income investments from my master watchlist of 200 blue-chips.

Generally, it's a good idea to use several valuation methods in concert, to minimize the chance of overpaying for a company and obtaining an insufficient margin of safety.

Never forget that no stock is a bond alternative, so always use proper asset allocation and good risk management rules.

(Source: imgflip)

Due to reader requests, I've decided to break up my weekly "Best Dividend Stocks To Buy This Week" series into two parts.

One will be the weekly watchlist article (with the best ideas for new money at any given time). The other will be a portfolio update.

To also make those more digestible, I'm breaking out the intro for the weekly series into a revised introduction and reference article on the 3 rules for using margin safely and profitably (which will no longer be included in those future articles).

To minimize reader confusion, I will be providing portfolio updates on a rotating tri-weekly schedule. This means an update every three weeks on:

I've also decided to remove the "Why Valuation ALWAYS Matters" intro to this series since that makes it more cumbersome to read for loyal followers of this series.

Rate Cut Rally Creates Greater Risks For Deploying New Money Today

The market has surged nearly 9% since May's trade war inspired pullback, mostly driven by rate cut euphoria.

(Source: CME Group)

Even after June's job report came in far better than expected (224,000 net jobs created last month and the 3-month rolling average 171,000 vs 50,000 needed to keep the job market tightening), bond futures are still pricing in a 100% probability of a July rate cut from the Fed.

Nothing in life (but especially on Wall Street) is 100% certain, and the bond market (and thus the stock market) is not just expecting one rate cut this month. It is also pricing in a 68% probability of three cuts by April 2020 (and a more than 30% chance of four and an 8% chance of five).

The reason for the market's irrational "bad news is good news" rate cut euphoria rally is that stocks generally trade at an earnings risk premium of 3.5% to 5.5% (over the last century). Since 2000, the average risk premium has been about 4%. In other words, the inverse of the market's forward PE (earnings yield) minus risk-free 10-year Treasury yields, has, in the modern era, been 4%.

The lower 10-year yields go, theoretically, the higher the market's forward PE can get, while remaining reasonably priced. The risk premium model is one that even well-respected investors like Warren Buffett and Jeff Miller (SA's economic Guru) consider when making broad recommendations.

But the danger is that, in the extreme, the risk premium model can lead you wildly astray.

(Source: Charlie Bilello) data as of June 17th

As of mid-June, $13 trillion in sovereign bonds were trading at negative interest rates, including slightly negative yields on Swiss bonds of 30-year duration. If you completely trust the earnings risk premium model, then sufficient Fed bond buying, say enough to drive 10-year yields to 0%, would justify a forward PE on stocks of 25.0. If 10-year yields were to fall to -0.5% (such as they recently did in Switzerland) then, theoretically, a 28.6 forward PE becomes "reasonable".

But I personally don't fully buy into the risk premium TINA (there is no alternative) bubble-like valuation method. While true that a world awash in "free money" would cause stock multiples to rise, I'll never consider sky-high valuations "reasonable". After all, the tech bubble, the most overvalued the US stock market has even been, saw a peak forward PE of 27.2. If economic conditions were ever to improve just a bit, bubble valuations mean that a slight increase in interest rates can cause stocks to crash.

While it's true that we need to consider long-term secular changes (such as demographics), I consider a reasonable approach to estimating the market's fair value to look at the 25-year (modern era) average forward PE. This is 16.2, and thus, the market now appears to be slightly rich, historically speaking.

That's not a good thing, given that EPS growth forecasts for 2019 and 2020 have been steadily declining for months, mostly due to the negative economic and supply chain effects of the Trade War.

(Source: Factset Research)

FactSet Research now estimates the market's forward PE is 16.9, indicating about 4% historical overvaluation. Note that this is based on some questionably bullish estimates, such as strong earnings growth in Q4 2019 and beyond (10.6% for full 2020). Jeff Miller is more conservative and estimates the forward PE is about 17.5 (stocks 8% historically overvalued).

Analysts are estimating the S&P 500 will rise 8.3% over the next 12 months, but according to FactSet Research, over the past 10 years, analysts have, on average, overshot 12-month return estimates by 3.3% and by 2.2% over the past five years. This means that, if analysts are right about their EPS growth estimates (which have been falling for months), stocks might reasonably be expected to rise about 5% to 6% by mid-2020. If Jeff Miller is right, and we avoid recession (60% probability based on the latest economic reports), then stocks might only rise 1% to 2%, basically trading flat.

But no matter how lofty the broader market gets, something great is always on sale (due to sector rotation and individual company bearishness). That's where this weekly valuation series comes in. So, let me walk you through a sound basic way to find great companies trading at reasonable, or even downright (and unjustifiably IMHO) deeply undervalued levels.

While no one can predict what the market will do over the next year (when sentiment rules), I'm confident that quality undervalued blue-chips will make investors very happy over the coming 5+ years.

Morningstar Is A Good (But Not Perfect) Place To Start Looking For Good Ideas

Morningstar is typically (though not always) a good starting location for blue-chip income investing ideas. That's because they are 100% focused on long-term fundamentals, rather than 12-month price targets like most sell-side analysts (the ones that issue "buy, sell, hold" recommendations). Most of their fair value estimates are reasonable (though not always, more on this in a moment). So, here are all my blue-chip watchlist stocks that Morningstar estimates are at least 20% undervalued.

(Source: Morningstar) data as of July 5th "q" = quantitative (non-analyst) model estimate

But you can't just look at any one analyst's fair value estimate and know if it's a good buy. That's because every company has its own risk profile, and differing business models mean that a 20% discount to fair value of a highly cyclical company (like commodity producers) isn't the same for one with very stable and recession-resistant cash flow (like a consumer staples company).

This is where looking at Morningstar's star ratings is a good next step. These ratings, which correspond to buy, strong buy, and very strong buy recommendations, factor in a company's risk profile, industry trends, management quality and Morningstar's definition of "Moatiness" (which I sometimes disagree with but are for the most part on the money when it comes to corporations).

So, here are my watchlist companies that Morningstar consider 4 or 5 star "strong and very strong buy" ratings.

(Source: Morningstar) data as of July 5th "q" = quantitative (non-analyst) model estimate

However, while a 4 or 5 star Morningstar stock is USUALLY a good long-term investment, it's important to remember that some of the company's recommendations can be far off the mark. Dividend Kings uses a 100% pure F.A.S.T Graphs powered valuation method that only looks at historical and objective data and sometimes disagrees with Morningstar.

Typically, these disagreements are minor. For example, Morningstar's Damien Conover is extremely conservative with his future drug sales for AbbVie (ABBV), and thus, estimates it's worth $102. F.A.S.T Graphs estimates $127, based on the company achieving management's guidance (13/25 quarters they beat and raise their own guidance) and thus delivering high-single-digit long-term growth and returning to its historical PE of 14.5 (low for a fast growing pharma).

But erring on the side of conservatism and assuming ABBV is worth $102 is not going to get investors into trouble. But now consider Nike (NKE) which Morningstar's David Swartz estimates is worth $98, and thus, the stock is 11% undervalued. Nike is a level 11/11 quality Super SWAN (one of 36 Dividend Kings tracks), but we completely disagree with Morningstar, and here's why.

We are raising our fair value estimate on Nike to $98 from $80. Our fair value estimate implies a 2019 adjusted P/E of 40 and a 2019 EV/adjusted EBITDA of 28." - David Swartz (emphasis added)

Morningstar's fair value estimate is based on a 2019 forward PE of 40, which Chuck Carnevale considers absolutely unjustified, and I agree 100% with that assessment. Here's why.

(Source: F.A.S.T Graphs)

Over the past 20 years, Nike has grown its earnings at 13.9% annually and averaged a PE of 22.1. Never once has the company even approached a 40 PE, and given that analysts expect 5-year EPS growth to be 15% CAGR (reasonable in our view), there is little to justify expecting the multiple to almost double its historical norm.

Here's why that matters,

  • Nike's 5-year forecast return assuming 40 PE and 15% long-term growth: 18.7% CAGR
  • Nike's 5-year return assuming 24.3 PE (10-year average in our low interest rate era): 9.5%

Even factoring in continued low 10-year yields (likely to persist for the foreseeable future due to secular trends), Nike can be expected to achieve significant multiple compression due to mean reversion. That means that buying today is likely to result in half the returns Morningstar's model estimates. In other words, due to one analyst's unjustified assumption, about 1/3 of Nike's growth is going to be eaten away by historically high valuations which will likely mean revert. This is why Nike is a "hold" on Dividend King's Fortress Super SWAN watchlist.

So, how can you tell whether or not Morningstar's valuation estimates and star ratings are reasonable or totally off the mark? One good way (other than subscribing to Dividend Kings) is to look at objective valuation metrics, which is where we turn to next.


While no valuation method is perfect, a good rule of thumb (from Chuck Carnevale, the SA king of value investing and founder of F.A.S.T. Graphs) is to try not to pay more than 15 times forward earnings for a company. This is because PE ratios are the most commonly used valuation metric on Wall Street and 15.0 PE being a reasonable price for quality companies is based on Mr. Carnevale's 50 years of experience in asset management valuing companies. Chuck's historical P/E valuation approach has made him a legend on Seeking Alpha and, according to TipRanks, one of the best analysts in the country when it comes to making investors money.

(Source: TipRanks) - data as of July 5th, note the stock market's historical 1-year return is 9.1% and 60% is considered a good success rate for analysts.

Chuck usually compares companies to their historical P/E ratios, and he's ranked in the top 1.4% of all analysts tracked by TipRanks (based on the forward 12-month total returns of his recommendations). While 12 months is hardly "long term," the point is that Mr. Carnevale is a fantastic value investing analyst, and his historical valuation-driven approach is beating 98.6% of all bloggers/analysts, including 5,200 that work on Wall Street.

Here are dozens of blue-chip companies with forward P/Es of 15 or less. Note that some industries are naturally prone to lower multiples (such as financials) due to more cyclical earnings. Also, P/E ratios for MLPs, REITs, and YieldCos are not a good indication of value since high depreciation results in lower EPS. Price/cash flow is the better approach with such pass-through stocks.

(Source: Morningstar) - data as of July 5th

But as I just said, PE is not appropriate for some stocks, such as REITs, YielCos, MLPs, and LPs. This is where you want to check price to cash flow, which can give you a rough idea (though also not perfect) whether a pass-through stock is trading at a reasonable valuation.

Price/Cash Flow

While earnings are usually what Wall Street obsesses over, it's actually cash flow that companies run on and use to pay a dividend, repurchase shares, and pay down debt. Thus, the price/cash flow ratio can be considered a similar metric to the P/E ratio but a more accurate representation of a company's value. Chuck Carnevale also considers a 15.0 or smaller price/cash flow ratio to be a good rule of thumb for buying quality companies at a fair price. Buying a quality company at a modest to great cash flow multiple is a very high probability long-term strategy.

Here are all the companies on my watchlist with price/cash flow of 15.0 or less.

(Source: Morningstar) - data as of July 5th

The limitation with either PE or P/cash flow is that certain industries naturally have lower multiples, due to their cyclicality or risk profiles. Dividend Kings' approach is powered entirely by F.A.S.T Graphs is able to screen companies by both quality and historical valuations (via 10 different metrics) and even by 5-year total return potential. This is what we use to create our Top Weekly Buy list and Deep Value Blue-Chip portfolio.

For example, with MLPs, like MPLX (MPLX) one of my favorite high-yield blue-chip recs right now (and 5% of my retirement portfolio), the best valuation metric is EV/EBITDA. This is the same metric private equity firms use to value most companies and takes into account debt which is why it's also called the "acquirer's multiple". Morningstar doesn't track EV/EBITDA but F.A.S.T Graphs does.

(Source: F.A.S.T Graphs)

Since its IPO in 2012 MPLX has averaged a 9.6 EV/EBITDA, which is a low multiple for a very stable cash-rich business (courtesy of the 5-year MLP bear market).

(Source: F.A.S.T Graphs)

The analyst consensus is for 5% long-term growth, which I consider rather conservative (6% is what I expect myself based on medium-term management guidance). But even using that conservative growth forecast, and a very reasonable 9.6 EV/EBITDA fair value estimate, we see that MPLX is capable of 14.3% CAGR five-year total returns (15.4% if it grows at 6%). While this is not a guarantee of market-beating returns, it's an example of a reasonable way value investors can achieve superior results while also collecting a safe 8% yield.

However, as far as quick, dirty (and free) methods go, the approach I'm illustrating in these articles, if done correctly, is good enough to minimize long-term investing risks.

But there is another thing investors need to consider when it comes to valuation, which can greatly affect their total returns in the future.

PE/Growth Ratio

According to Benjamin Graham, Buffett's mentor and the father of value investing, a company with stable cash flow but zero growth prospects is fairly valued at a PE of about 8. If you just go off the PE ratio alone, you may actually not be getting a good deal, because companies with fast growth are naturally worth higher multiples. This is where the PE/Growth or PEG ratio comes in.

While this method is limited by what growth assumptions you use, it's a quick and dirty way to screen for potentially attractive dividend growth investments, when used in conjunction with other methods. The S&P 500's PEG ratio is currently 2.6 to 2.8, depending on what long-term growth estimates you use. A PEG of 1.0 or less is generally excellent but 2.0 or less is likely to deliver good returns IF you're buying a quality company with a stable business model. Here are my watchlist stocks with PEGs of 2.0 or less, as estimated by Morningstar's forward growth forecast.

(Source: Morningstar) - data as of July 5th

2 Other Valuation Methods To Consider

(Source: Google Sheets) data as of July 5th, bolded companies are within 5% of 52-week lows

I maintain a watchlist that takes every company I track and applies an 11-point quality score based on dividend safety, the business model, and management quality. All dividend stocks can be ranked 3-11, and my watchlist (about 200 companies) only includes those with quality scores of 8 and higher.

  • 8: Blue-chip (buy a modest discount to fair value) limit to 5% to 10% of your portfolio.
  • 9 to 10: SWAN stock: buy with confidence at fair value or better, limit to 5% to 10% of your portfolio.
  • 11: Super SWAN (as close to an ideal dividend stock as you can find on Wall Street) limit to 5% to 10% of your portfolio.

I've programmed that watchlist to track prices and use the 52-week low as a means of knowing when a blue-chip or SWAN stock is within 5% of its 52-week low and potentially a Buffett-style "fat pitch" investment. This means a blue-chip/SWAN stock is:

  • Trading near its 52-week (or often multi-year) low.
  • Undervalued per other valuation methods
  • Offers a high probability of achieving significant multiple expansion within 5 to 10 years and thus delivering double-digit long-term total returns over this time period.

Another method you can use is to target blue chips trading in protracted bear markets, such as sharp discounts to their 5-year highs. Buying a company at multi-year lows is another way to reduce the risk of overpaying and boost long-term total return potential.

(Source: Morningstar) - data as of July 5th

Basically, "Fat Pitch" investing is about achieving high-risk style returns with low-risk stocks, by buying them when they are at their least popular ("be greedy when others are fearful.")

Mind you it can take a long time for coiled springs like these deep value blue-chips to pop, but as long as their business models remain intact and they keep growing cash flow and dividends, they eventually will which is why 7 of the eight best investors in history have been value investors.

Dividend Yield Theory: Market-Beating Blue-Chip Returns Since 1966

This group of dividend growth blue chips represents what I consider the best stocks you can buy today. They are presented in 5 categories, sorted by most undervalued (based on dividend yield theory using a 5-year average yield).

  • High yield (4+% yield)
  • Fast dividend growth
  • Dividend Aristocrats
  • Dividend Kings

The goal is to allow readers to know what are the best low-risk dividend growth stocks to buy at any given time. You can think of these as my "highest-conviction" recommendations for conservative income investors that represent what I consider to be the best opportunities for low-risk income investors available in the market today. Over time, a portfolio built based on these watchlists will be highly diversified, low-risk, and a great source of safe and rising income over time.

The rankings are based on the discount to fair value. The valuations are determined by dividend yield theory, which Investment Quality Trends, or IQT, has proven works well for dividend stocks since 1966, generating market-crushing long-term returns with far less volatility.

(Source: Investment Quality Trends)

According to Hulbert Financial Digest, IQT's pure blue-chip + DYT approach has resulted in the best 30-year risk-adjusted total returns of any US investing newsletter (over 600 are tracked).

That's because, for stable business income stocks, yields tend to mean-revert over time, meaning cycle around a relatively fixed value approximating fair value. If you buy a dividend stock when the yield is far above its historical average, then you'll likely outperform when its valuation returns to its normal level over time.

For the purposes of these valuation-adjusted total return potentials, I use the Gordon Dividend Growth Model or GDGM (which is what Brookfield Asset Management (BAM) and NextEra Energy (NEE) use). Since 1954, this has proven relatively accurate at modeling long-term total returns via the formula: Yield + Dividend growth. That's because, assuming no change in valuation, a stable business model (doesn't change much over time), and a constant payout ratio, dividend growth tracks cash flow growth.

The valuation adjustment assumes that a stock's yield will revert to its historical norm within 10 years (over that time period, stock prices are purely a function of fundamentals). Thus, these valuation total return models are based on the formula: Yield + Projected 10-year dividend growth (analyst consensus, confirmed by historical growth rate) + 10-year yield reversion return boost.

For example, if a stock with a historical average yield of 2% is trading at 3%, then the yield is 50% above its historical yield. This implies the stock is 3% current yield - 2% historical yield)/3% current yield = 33% undervalued. If the stock mean-reverts over 10 years, then this means the price will rise by 50% over 10 years just to correct the undervaluation.

That represents a 4.1% annual total return just from valuation mean regression. If the stock grows its cash flow (and dividend) at 10% over this time, then the total return one would expect from this stock would be 3% yield + 10% dividend (and FCF/share) growth + 4.1% valuation boost = 17.1%.

The historical margin of error for this valuation-adjusted model is about 20% (the most accurate I've yet discovered).

Top 5 High-Yield Blue-Chips To Buy Today

Company Ticker Sector Yield Fair Value Yield Historical Yield Range Discount To Fair Value Expected 5 Year Annualized Cash Flow Growth

Valuation Adjusted Total Return Potential

British American Tobacco (BTI) Consumer Staples 7.1% 4.1% 2.8% to 8.2% 42% 8.0% 21.3%
Altria (MO) Consumer Staples 6.6% 4.0% 3.1% to 14.4% 39% 8.0% 18.5%
Lazard (uses K-1 tax form) (LAZ) Finance 5.4% 3.5% 0.9% to 6.0% 35% 3.5% 13.3%
Enbridge (ENB) Energy 6.0% 4.0% 2.3% to 6.6% 33% 6.0% 18.6%
Kimco Realty (KIM) REIT 6.1% 4.3% 2.7% to 24.5% 30% 4.2% 15.3%

(Sources: Management guidance, GuruFocus, F.A.S.T. Graphs, Simply Safe Dividends, Dividend Yield Theory, Gordon Dividend Growth Model) Note: Margin of error on total return potential is 20%.

Top 5 Fast-Growing Dividend Blue-Chips To Buy Today

Company Ticker Sector Yield Fair Value Yield Historical Yield Range Discount To Fair Value Expected 5 Year Annualized Cash Flow Growth

Valuation Adjusted Total Return Potential

FedEx (FDX) Industrial 1.6% 0.8% 0.3% to 1.5% 50% 13.0% 19.7%
A.O Smith (AOS) Industrials 1.9% 1.1% 0.8% to 3.4% 42% 8.0% 14.9%
Thor Industries (THO) Consumer Discretionary 2.7% 1.7% 0.8% to 2.7% 37% 4.9% 11.8%
Skyworks Solutions (SWKS) Technology 1.9% 1.3% 0.2% to 2.2% 32% 15.0% 20.4%
Albemarle (ALB) Basic Materials 2.1% 1.5% 0.8% to 3.0% 29% 13.7% 19.6%

(Sources: Management guidance, GuruFocus, F.A.S.T. Graphs, Simply Safe Dividends, Dividend Yield Theory, Gordon Dividend Growth Model) Note: Margin of error on total return potential is 20%.

Top 5 Dividend Aristocrats To Buy Today

Company Ticker Sector Yield Fair Value Yield Historical Yield Range Discount To Fair Value Expected 5 Year Annualized Cash Flow Growth

Valuation Adjusted Total Return Potential

A.O Smith (AOS) Industrials 1.9% 1.1% 0.8% to 3.4% 42% 8.0% 14.9%
AbbVie (ABBV) Healthcare 5.9% 3.7% 0.9% to 5.5% 37% 5.7% 15.1%
Leggett & Platt (LEG) Consumer Discretionary 4.1% 3.0% 2.4% to 9.7% 27% 5.2% 12.2%
Walgreens Boots Alliance (WBA) Consumer Staples 3.2% 2.4% 1.0% to 3.1% 25% 5.0% 11.2%
3M (MMM) Industrials 3.4% 2.6% 1.8% to 4.8% 24% 6.4% 12.1%

(Sources: Management guidance, GuruFocus, F.A.S.T. Graphs, Simply Safe Dividends, Dividend Yield Theory, Gordon Dividend Growth Model) Note: Margin of error on total return potential is 20%.

Top 5 Dividend Kings To Buy Today

Company Ticker Sector Yield Fair Value Yield Historical Yield Range Discount To Fair Value Expected 5 Year Annualized Cash Flow Growth

Valuation Adjusted Total Return Potential

3M (MMM) Industrials 3.4% 2.6% 1.8% to 4.8% 24% 6.4% 12.1%
Lowe's (LOW) Consumer Discretionary 2.1% 1.8% 1.2% to 2.5% 14% 16.3% 19.5%
Federal Realty Investment Trust (FRT) REIT 3.1% 2.8% 2.2% to 6.4% 10% 6.0% 10.6%
Parker-Hannifin (PH) Industrials 2.1% 1.9% 1.1% to 3.4% 10% 7.0% 10.0%
Hormel Foods (HRL) Consumer Staples 2.0% 1.9% 1.2% to 2.8% 5% 8.5% 10.3%

(Sources: Management guidance, GuruFocus, F.A.S.T. Graphs, Simply Safe Dividends, Dividend Yield Theory, Gordon Dividend Growth Model) Note: Margin of error on total return potential is 20%.

Bottom Line: To Find The Best Undervalued Dividend Blue-Chips You'll Want To Use Several Valuation Methods In Concert

This weekly watchlist series is meant to be a guide to how to go about screening for great blue-chip investing opportunities as well as provide good ideas that meet the needs of many kinds of investors. There are several good approaches you can take, including tapping into the industry expertise of Morningstar's generally (but not always) conservative analysts.

But never forget that a good margin of safety means factoring in a company's risk profile as well, including the stability of its cash flow, its economic sensitivity, the strength of its business model (including its moatiness), and the quality of its management. This is why I recommend always confirming a valuation recommendation via objective data, such as PE, P/cash flow, and other industry appropriate methods (such as EV/EBITDA for energy, P/FFO for REITs, etc.). This is the best way to minimize the risk of overpaying for a company and watching your returns languish for prolonged periods of time (market envy makes it much harder to remain disciplined and patient).

And even when the market's not trading at slightly rich valuations, risk management and proper asset allocation are still the cornerstone of any well-constructed portfolio. While knowing what companies to buy and at what valuations is crucial, what will ultimately let you sleep well at night (and thus remained disciplined enough to let your strategy work over time) is having the right risk protocols in place.

Over my years as an analyst for Simply Safe Dividends, founder Brian Bollinger (30 years of experience as a mutual fund manager) has taught me a lot about how to achieve Buffett's top two rules of good investing ("Rule #1 never lose money, rule #2 never forget rule #1").

Simply Safe Dividend Risk Recommendations

I've used what I've learned from Simply Safe (as well as consulting with other asset managers, some with 50 years of industry experience) to create my own risk management rules of thumb.

Always remember that NO DIVIDEND STOCK IS A BOND ALTERNATIVE and that any recommendations I or my fellow Dividend Kings (Brad Thomas and Chuck Carnevale) make are meant only for the equity portion of your portfolio.

Disclosure: I am/we are long BPY, ABBV, ET, BIP, NEP, EPR, MPLX, IRM, AM, ENB, SPG, BLK, AOS, AAPL, UNH, MMM, ALB, LAZ, TXRH, BTI, LOW, WBA, SWKS, AVGO, MO. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.