Many investors like to buy stocks that are known as Dividend Aristocrats. To join this elite group, an S&P 500 company must increase its dividend for at least 25 consecutive years. But just how much those companies increase their dividends varies greatly. Some gain inclusion on the list of Dividend Aristocrats by making only small dividend hikes.
That's not the case for all of the stocks, though. VF Corporation (NYSE: VFC), AbbVie (NYSE: ABBV), Medtronic (NYSE: MDT), Illinois Tool Works (NYSE: ITW), and Lowe's Companies (NYSE: LOW) have raised their dividends by more than 40% over the last three years. But are these five Dividend Aristocrats with the fastest-growing dividends good picks for income-seeking investors now?
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Clothing maker VF Corp. has raised its dividend for 44 straight years. Over the past three years, the company's dividend has increased by nearly 44%, making VF Corp. the No. 5 Dividend Aristocrat in terms of fastest dividend growth. Its yield currently stands at 2.64%.
The clothing business is highly competitive. VF Corp. has been able to hold its own through the years thanks to well-known brands like Lee, Nautica, The North Face, Timberland, and Wrangler. However, both sales and earnings have declined in recent quarters as traditional retail outlets like malls have encountered challenges from internet retailers. VF Corp. is attempting to navigate the changing retail dynamics by beefing up its own direct-to-consumer channels.
In the meantime, the dividend appears to be solid. The company uses only 60% of earnings to fund the dividend program, which should mean VF's streak of dividend hikes will continue.
Big biotech AbbVie's track record of annual dividend increases goes back 45 years, although the company was part of parent Abbott Labs during the period prior to 2013. AbbVie has raised its dividend nearly 45% in the last three years, bumping its yield up to 3.07%.
AbbVie should be in great position to keep those dividend hikes coming. The drugmaker uses less than 60% of earnings to pay out dividends -- and those earnings are expected to grow by nearly 16% annually over the next few years.
The company's dividend isn't the only thing going for it, though. AbbVie stock has soared more than 45% so far in 2017. Its top drug Humira continues to enjoy strong sales growth. AbbVie and partner Johnson & Johnson lay claim to one of the fastest-rising cancer drugs with Imbruvica. The company also boasts one of the top drug pipelines in the biopharmaceutical industry.
Medical device maker Medtronic has increased its dividend for 40 consecutive years. Over the last three of those years, the company's dividend has risen by nearly 51%. Medtronic's dividend currently yields 2.29%.
Investors don't have any reason to worry about Medtronic's ability to increase dividends in the future. The company's payout ratio is less than 59%. Medtronic also generates strong cash flow that should allow it to keep paying out and raising dividends down the road.
Aside from its dividend, there are a couple of reasons for investors to like Medtronic. One is its moat. The company makes a wide range of medical devices that physicians and hospitals rely on. Despite plenty of competition, Medtronic should remain a leader in the medical device industry. Also, aging demographics in the U.S. and elsewhere should increase demand for the products made by Medtronic.
Illinois Tool Works
Illinois Tool Works' dividend has gone up every year for the past 43 years. And the specialized equipment maker's dividend payout has gone up a lot during the past three years -- nearly 61%. The company's yield now stands just over 2%.
Not only does Illinois Tool Works rank No. 2 among Dividend Aristocrats for recent dividend growth, it also has the second-best payout ratio. The company uses a little under 42% of its earnings to fund the dividend program, indicating plenty of flexibility for future dividend hikes.
Even better for investors, Illinois Tool Works stock's gains have outperformed all of the other four Dividend Aristocrats on our list over the past three years. The company has benefited from good economic conditions that drove higher demand for the machinery it manufacturers. There is a cyclical nature to Illinois Tool Works' business, which means the stock could feel the brunt of an economic downturn more than many other stocks do. Over the long run, though, it should be a solid pick for income investors.
The Dividend Aristocrat with the fastest-growing dividend of all is Lowe's. The home-improvement retailer boasts a 55-year streak of annual dividend increases. And over the past three years, Lowe's has boosted its divided by a whopping 78%. Its dividend currently yields a little over 2%.
In addition to taking the top spot in dividend growth, Lowe's also claims the lowest payout ratio of the group. The retailer uses only 41% of earnings to pay dividends. Lowe's impressive track record of dividend hikes doesn't appear to be in any jeopardy.
Lowe's stock tends to drop on any hint of problems with housing. For example, the stock fell after the GOP released its tax plan, which includes a lower cap on mortgage interest deductions. Lowe's also hasn't fared as well as its archrival Home Depot. However, the stock still appears to be a good choice for long-term investors looking for solid dividends.
This article originally appeared on The Motley Fool.