"Safety-First" Telecom And Utility Dividends

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There are some “safety-first” dividends out there that profit from inflation and boast low volatility — a godsend today and for 2023, when a recession is likely in the cards, suggests Michael Foster, editor of Contrarian Outlook.

We’ll look at two good examples of these types of stocks below. But first, let’s talk about what a stock needs to thrive in this inflation-and-recession-spooked market.

When hunting for reliable dividends, we primarily want stocks that have held up better than their peers in this dumpster fire. It only makes sense — if they’ve stayed strong now, they’re likely to keep doing so. And when the market (inevitably) turns, they’ll have a sturdy base from which to jump.

Note that we’re not looking for bargain P/E ratios here. Just stocks with resilience that are backed by strong societal trends. Finally, we want companies with the pricing power to pass their rising costs off to consumers, letting them not only survive inflation, but thrive during it. Let’s get started with our first pick.

A Canadian “Battleship” Dividend

BCE Inc. (BCE) is a Canadian telecom provider that has pricing power in spades. It, along with Telus Corp. (TU) and Rogers Communications (RCI), essentially form an oligopoly, with an iron grip on Canada’s telecommunications market. That’s why Canadians pay some of the highest cell phone rates in the world. Pricing power? Check.


Now let’s talk relative strength. As you can see, BCE, which also controls major Canadian television network CTV and owns the Toronto Maple Leafs and Raptors, is holding up just fine in the mess we’ve been facing this year, thumping American cousin Verizon Communications (VZ) and staying in the green.

Throw in a nice 5.5% dividend and a record of strong and steady payout growth (the dividend is up 70% in the last decade, in Canadian dollars), and you have all the makings of a “battleship” dividend payer. It’s not surprising that this one is a mainstay in Canadian investment portfolios, but we don’t have to miss out stateside: BCE trades on the NYSE, so it’s easy to buy.

An “All-Weather” Payout That’s Growing Fast

Electric utilities are another go-to at times like these, and American Electric Power (AEP) is one of the biggest, with 5.5 million customers in 11 states. Utilities are paying higher prices for coal and natural gas these days, but AEP is smartly offsetting those with a rapid shift to renewables, with plans to produce 50% of its power from clean sources by 2030.

The best thing about utilities, of course, is that they hold up in all market weather, and especially during recessions. And you and I both know that fear of the next recession is rising daily.

The reason for that resilience is pretty simple: people need to heat their homes and run their fridges no matter what, and AEP’s sheer size is attracting safety-obsessed investors (and likely more than a few “refugees” from the clobbered crypto market). In any event, they’ve powered it to a 14% return this year, as of this writing, well ahead of its sector.


Now let’s talk payouts, because over the last five years, the company has delivered a nice 35% hike in the dividend. Those hikes have paced the price higher and there are likely more dividend-driven gains ahead — AEP pays 58% of its earnings as dividends, which is very safe for a company with steady revenue like this one.

AEP’s dividend is also backstopped by strong profits, with operating earnings per share expected to come in between $4.87 and $5.07 for 2022, the midpoint of which ($4.97) is well up from last year’s $4.74.

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