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“The only certainties in life are death and taxes.” Everyone’s familiar with this old adage. Given the uncertainty of this economic recovery, wouldn’t it be nice to have an investment that is equally as reliable?
The good news is income investors can come pretty close to this and lock in predictable returns by owning stocks of companies that operate in these fields — death and taxes.
Taxes, on the other hand, might not be quite as morbid as death, but it’s still unpleasant. And between that and the fact that our tax code is overwhelmingly complicated, people need help getting their affairs in order when Uncle Sam comes knocking.
Here are two death-care stocks and a tax-services stock that pay rich dividends…
1. Hillenbrand Inc. (NYSE: HI)
Hillenbrand is a major player in the death-care industry. The company’s subsidiary, Bateville Casket Co., is the world’s largest manufacturer of caskets, holding a nearly 50% share of the market. Hillenbrand re-invests reliable cash flow generated by its casket segment in its fast-growing process-equipment businesses. This includes K-Tron; which makes conveyer equipment; Rotex, a manufacturer of sifters and separation equipment; and the Size Reduction Group, which makes crushers that process 75% of all the coal produced in the United States.
Hillenbrand was spun off from its former parent Hill-Rom (NYSE: HRC) in 2008, so it has a short history as a public company, though Batesville has been making caskets for more than 100 years. In the past five years, Hillenbrand has grown sales by 9% a year and increased earnings at a 5% annual rate.
Last year, the company easily beat analyst estimates by delivering $883.4 million in revenue, an 18% increase from 2010. Its $106.1 million in earnings was a 15% improvement from the year-ago period. Hillenbrand expects 13% to 17% revenue growth in 2012, which will likely be fueled by double-digit growth in the process-equipment segment. Earnings growth is expected to be flat this year due to the absence of one-time items that boosted the company’s income statement in 2011.
Despite that, analysts say Hillenbrand could achieve at least 8% earnings growth in each of the next five years.
Dividend growth has averaged a rich 13% a year, but recent dividend hikes have been more modest because Hillenbrand has been more focused on paying down acquisition-related debt. The last increase was a $0.01 hike in December 2011 to a $0.77 annual rate. Still, payout is affordable at just 42% of earnings, while the yield is generous at almost 4%. Stronger dividend increases are likely as debt declines.
2. Stonemor Partners L.P. (NYSE: STON)
Stonemor Partners is the nation’s second-largest owner and operator of funeral homes. The limited partnership operates 272 cemeteries and 69 funeral homes in 28 states and Puerto Rico.
The business grows by acquisitions and is finding ample purchase opportunities. Revenue has grown 15% a year for the past five years. In 2011 alone, revenue improved 16% to $228 million as a result of acquisitions that were concluded during the year. While operating profits improved 28% to $48.6 million in comparison with 2010, a $9.7 million net loss was recorded due to non-recurring items and events.
Stonmor’s distributable cash flow rose 29% last year to $49.3 million, which readily covered $44.6 million of distributions. Analysts expect Stonemor to deliver 13% income growth in each of the next five years. Dividends have risen each of the past seven years to the current $2.34 annualized rate, giving the shares a generous yield of almost 9%.
3. H&R Block (NYSE: HRB)
One of the world’s largest tax services providers, H&R Block mainly competes with Intuit (Nasdaq: INTU) and Jackson Hewitt. H&R Block estimates it prepares one in every seven U.S. tax returns.
Aggressive ad spending paid off with a second straight year of client growth in 2011 and a record 22.2 million tax returns prepared — nearly 1 million more clients than 2010.
This steady performer has produced 9% yearly growth for five years, but because it’s dealing with higher costs this year, it plans to cut $100 million from spending by closing 200 company-owned stores. No earnings growth is expected in fiscal 2012 (ending in April), but analyst say growth will resume next year and average 12% in each of the next five years.
H&R Block has a 35-year dividend history. The last increase was in December 2011, with a huge 33% boost that pushed the yield above 5%. The 48% payout ratio means H&R Block should be able to maintain or even increase dividends going forward.
Risks to consider: H&R Block faces sizable legal claims relating to a shuttered subprime mortgage unit. Stonmor’s heavy $194 million debt is a concern, since it exceeds $180 million of stockholder equity. The balance sheet is improving, however, and ratings agency Standard & Poor’s recently upgraded Stonmor’s corporate debt rating from “CCC+” to “B-”.
Action to take –> My top pick overall is Stonmor Partners. If you like generous yields and predictable growth, then this limited partnership is hard to beat. Investors who want more diversification and upside potential with their income may prefer Hillenbrand for its fast-growing processing-equipment businesses. H&R Block offers a nice yield and could be a good choice once all the legal claims against its Sand Canyon mortgage subsidiary are finally resolved. But in the long-term, all three of these stocks are fit to provide investors with reliable dividend payments.
– Lisa SpringerSource: StreetAuthority