Unveiled on September 13, a long-awaited Federal Reserve plan for a third round of aggressive quantitative easing stimulus has provided an impetus for stocks to rally. The U.S. equities have climbed to near five-year highs and are currently trading at hefty valuations. Despite some concerns about the coming earnings season, stocks look poised to extend their gains through the remainder of the year.
Several stocks of companies that pay decent dividend yields have taken part in the noted rally, rising to new 52-week highs. Here is a quick glance at five attractive dividend payers whose prices have reached the new highs in the past week.
Darden Restaurants' (NYSE:DRI) stock hit an all-time high last week. The company is the world's largest company-owned and operated full-service restaurant business. Its brands include Red Lobster, Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse, The Capital Grille, Bahama Breeze, and others. The company has a total market capitalization of $7.4 billion. It pays a dividend yield of 3.7% on a payout ratio of 56%. Its competitor DineEquity, Inc. (NYSE:DIN), the owner of Applebee's International, does not pay dividends, while peer Brinker International (NYSE:EAT), which operates Chili's Grill & Bar and Maggiano's Little Italy, has a dividend yield of 2.3%. Over the past five years, Darden Restaurant's EPS and dividends grew at average rates of 7.1% and 20% per year, respectively. Analysts forecast that the company's EPS will accelerate to nearly 12% per year for the next five years, which may produce higher dividend payouts in the future. The company recently reported earnings that beat the consensus estimates. While faltering consumer confidence and a weak macroeconomic recovery will be the headwinds going forward, favorable food and energy prices will bode well for the restaurant owner. On a forward P/E basis, the stock is trading at a deep discount to the restaurants and bars industry. The stock is changing hands at $57.21 a share, up 25.4% over the past 12 months. Among fund managers, Phill Gross (Adage Capital) and Cliff Asness hold small stakes in the stock.
Medtronic Inc. (NYSE:MDT) is a $44-billion medical devices company. It pays a dividend yield of 2.4% on a low payout ratio of 30%. The company's rival St. Jude Medical Inc. (NYSE:STJ) pays a yield of 2.1%, while competitor Boston Scientific Corporation (NYSE:BSX) does not pay any dividends. Medtronic has been a good dividend growth stock. Over the past five years, its EPS grew at an average rate of 6.0%, while its dividends increased at a robust average annual rate of 16.8%. The company is expected to boost its EPS at an average annual rate of 6.6% for the next five years. Medtronic has a gross margin higher than that of its industry on average. Compared to its peers, it has a high free cash flow yield and return on equity as well as appealing valuation. Based on forward P/Es, Medtronic is trading at a discount to its respective industry and the stock's own five-year average P/E. Its shares are changing hands at $43.35 a share, up nearly 24% over the past year. Fund managers Ric Dillon (Diamond Hill Capital-see its top picks) and Ralph V. Whitworth (Relational Investors) each hold more than $200 million in this stock.
Novartis AG (NYSE:NVS) is a $148-billion Swiss pharmaceutical giant. The company is an attractive dividend play given it is paying a higher yield than its industry on average. Also, the company's current yield is higher than its average yield over the past five years. The stock is currently yielding 4.1% on a payout ratio of 70%. Its peers Pfizer (NYSE:PFE) and Merck & Co. (NYSE:MRK) pay dividend yields of 3.6% and 3.8%, respectively. Even though patents for two of the company's drugs are set to expire in 2013 and 2015, Novartis has a rich pipeline of new medications, as it plans to initiate regulatory filings for some 60 new drugs through 2015. Recently, Novartis' drug Votubia was recommended by the European Medicines Agency's Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use (NASDAQ:CHMP) for EU approval to treat patients with non-cancerous kidney tumors. Earlier, its drug Afinitor was also approved by European regulators to treat women with a certain type of breast cancer. Over the past five years, Novartis' EPS grew at an average annual rate of 5.6%, while its dividends increased at a rate of 17.7%. The company's EPS and dividend growth are expected to moderate in the coming years. As regards valuation, on a forward P/E basis, Novartis is priced on par with Merck & Co., but slightly above Pfizer. The stock is trading at $61.26 a share, up 9.3% over the past year. The stock is popular with hedge fund Arrowstreet Capital (check out its top positions), which holds more than $86 million in the stock.
Target Inc. (NYSE:TGT) is a $43-billion discount retailer in the United States - the second largest after Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT). It pays a dividend yield of 2.2% and has a low payout ratio of 33%. Its peers Wal-Mart and Costco Wholesale Corporation (NASDAQ:COST) are yielding 2.1% and 1.1%, respectively. Target has been an exceptionally attractive dividend growth stock. Over the past five years, Target's EPS grew at an average rate of 6.0% per year, while its dividends grew at an average annual rate of 20.3%. Analysts forecast a major acceleration in the company's EPS growth in the next five years, with EPS rising on average by 12.6% per year. The company's expansion into Canada will help boost the top- and bottom-line growth. The expected EPS growth acceleration and the low dividend payout ratio suggest large dividend hikes in the future. Target has a free cash flow yield of 2.7% and a ROE of 19%. As regards its valuation, Target is priced on par with the broadline retailers industry and in line with its main rival, Wal-Mart. Target's stock is currently trading at $65.44 a share, up 24.3% over the past 12 months. Billionaires Tom Steyer and D. E. Shaw (check out the fund's top picks) are bullish about the stock.
Paychex Inc. (NASDAQ:PAYX) is a $12.5-billion payrolls processing and human resource and benefits outsourcing company. It pays a dividend yield of 3.7% on a high payout ratio of 85%. The company's main rivals Automatic Data Processing Inc. (NASDAQ:ADP), a dividend aristocrat, and Insperity (NYSE:NSP) pay dividend yields of 2.7% and 2.6%, respectively. Over the past five years, Paychex's EPS grew, on average, by a meager 2.3% per year, while its dividend increased at an average annual rate of 6.6%. Analysts forecast a robust EPS growth in the future, averaging 10.4% per year for the next five years. Despite a lackluster employment growth, Paychex has been able to uphold growth and is likely to benefit more from the expected rebound in the labor market and the economy. The stock has a high ROE of 35.35%. As regards its valuation, on a forward P/E basis, the stock is trading at a premium to the financial administration industry. Paychex's forward P/E is also slightly higher than that of ADP. The stock is currently changing hands at $34.55 a share, up 27.6% over the past year. Among hedge funds, Generation Investment Management, run by David Blood and former U.S. Vice-president Al Gore, holds the largest stake in the company.
Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours. 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.