Among forecasters surveyed by the National Association for Business Economics, 60% of respondents think it’s likely the U.S. will slip into a recession this year. It’s impossible to tell exactly where the broader economy will head next, but it seems clear that conditions are strange right now, and factors including high inflation, rising interest rates, and signs of weakness in the banking sector mean there’s plenty of uncertainty on the horizon.
In the face of market volatility and the looming possibility of a recession, investors might be wondering how best to play the current environment. Predicting exactly what the market and broader economy will do over the next year may not be possible, but having top-tier dividend stocks backed by businesses that can withstand harsh conditions is a way to minimize downside risk and still leave the door open for returns. With that in mind, read on for a look at one of the best dividend stocks on the market.
A sin stock with a virtuous valuation
Led by the Marlboro brand, Altria Group (MO 0.28%) is the top dog in the U.S. smokable tobacco market. No bones about it, Altria falls squarely in the “sin stock” category, and the nature of the company’s core product lines means that it will be an immediate no-go for investors who don’t want to own a piece of these kinds of businesses.
On the other hand, it’s likely that its business will hold up relatively well in the event of a recession, and the stock looks attractively valued for income-focused investors seeking high-yield plays that also offer defensive fortitude. Cigarette unit volume sales will likely continue to decline going forward, but the company’s great brand strength has supported price increases. Share buybacks have also worked to bolster per-share profits.
Despite these trends suggesting that Altria will deliver very little revenue growth in the near term, its stock looks cheaply valued.
Shares trade at less than 9.5 times expected forward earnings. Among companies with high yields and low price-to-earnings ratios, few have stronger foundations. Altria’s solid business, valuation profile, and fantastic returned-income component make it a relatively low-risk stock in the face of broader economic uncertainty.
Even with unit sale pressures, Altria expects to deliver non-GAAP (adjusted) earnings per share between $4.98 and $5.13 this year, implying growth between 3% and 6% annually. With the stock offering a fantastic yield, this earnings growth outlook is attractive in the context of macroeconomic challenges and volatility for the broader market.
With the announcement of its most recent payout increase last August, Altria marked its 53rd consecutive annual dividend hike and its 57th payout increase in as many years. There’s a very good chance that the company will once again deliver another dividend raise this summer.
Altria has potentially underappreciated diversification initiatives
There’s no denying that most of Altria’s recent investment moves wound up being debacles that destroyed shareholder value. In addition to seeing the value of its investment in cannabis company Cronos Group decline precipitously, the tobacco giant took write-downs to the tune of 98% on its initial $12.8 billion investment in the Juul vaping business.
Altria’s investment in Juul was undeniably a failure, but it would also likely be a mistake to give up on the vape category entirely. Facing declining unit volume sales for its core cigarette products, the tobacco giant needs to have some plans in place to drive long-term growth, and investment in e-cigarettes looks like a smart move even if previous initiatives in the space wound up being duds.
Altria has finally closed out its investment in Juul, turning in its shares in exchange for licensing rights to some of the vape company’s products in some markets. The tobacco giant also announced that it will be purchasing e-cigarette player NJOY in a $2.75 billion deal. If certain NJOY products receive regulatory approval, Altria will make an additional $500 million cash payment to the company’s owners.
As opposed to the minority stake that it held in Juul, Altria will have complete control over the direction of business at NJOY. Additionally, the vape company has already received Food and Drug Administration approval for its products, and its vape products lack the popularity among late teenagers and underage users that had drawn the ire of regulators with Juul. It’s not clear that the NJOY acquisition will be a hit, but the market seems to be assigning little possibility of Altria eventually finding success in the vaping category.
Altria is a top-tier defensive play
With low earnings multiples backed by a solid core business, great dividend yield, and a payout growth history that few companies can match, Altria stands out as one of the best overall dividend stocks on the market. While it’s unclear if the company’s diversification initiatives will bear fruit, shares look cheaply valued and deserve consideration from income-focused investors.