The beauty of dividend stocks is the simplicity of getting paid just to own part of a business. Of course, investors can't just seek out the highest yields and hit the martini bar. The cash distributions made by any business should be supported by a strong balance sheet, healthy cash flow, and intelligent capital investments.
While that set of criteria swipes most double-digit yields off the list of great dividend stocks, investors can still find solid businesses generously returning cash to shareholders in a retirement-friendly manner. We recently asked three contributors at The Motley Fool for their best income stocks for retirees. Here's why they chose WestRock (NYSE: WRK) , ONEOK (NYSE: OKE) , and TJX Companies (NYSE: TJX) .
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Paper is the renewable solution to plastic pollution
Maxx Chatsko (WestRock): Not only does WestRock pay a market-beating 5% dividend yield, but its shares are also trading at just 0.81 times book value. That means the stock would have to rise 23% to be fairly valued. The pulp and paper leader's shares sport a PEG ratio of 0.82 and trade at just 9 times future earnings to boot.
Why are shares so depressed? Wall Street has remained cautious out of fears the trade war between the United States and China will weigh on the business, but that simply hasn't happened yet. While China has been a driving force behind record demand and prices in corrugated paper (read: cardboard) in recent years, so have domestic trends such as rising e-commerce sales (cardboard demand for shipping boxes has exploded) and an increased interest among consumer-facing companies to ditch plastic packaging for paper alternatives.
Consider that the number of customers purchasing at least $1 million from both of the company's business segments, corrugated packaging and consumer packaging, has increased from 102 at the end of fiscal 2016 to 143 at the end of March 2019. Those customers represented $6 billion in sales in the last 12 months, or roughly one-third of total revenue. With states from New York to California banning plastic bags and straws, and companies like Starbucks and Walmart committing to the same, the trend is likely to continue -- and perhaps accelerate.
Investors can capture that environmentally friendly trend with WestRock, as well as the company's multiyear strategy to boost annual EBITDA . By modernizing infrastructure and retooling factories to churn out the highest-margin and most in-demand products, the business expects to increase annual EBITDA by $150 million by the end of fiscal 2021. Given the company's healthy margins right now and its leadership position in the paper and packaging industry, retirees might find a lot to like in this low-risk dividend stock.
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The best of both worlds
Matt DiLallo (ONEOK): Pipeline giant ONEOK checks all the boxes for retirees. For starters, the company pays a well-above-average dividend that currently yields 5.3%. And it backs that payout with a sound financial profile. Not only does it generate stable cash flow since long-term contracts supply about 85% of its earnings, but it also produces enough money to cover its current payout by a comfortable 1.4 times. On top of that, it has a conservative leverage ratio that's currently right in line with its targeted level.
Because ONEOK is producing more cash than it needs to pay the dividend, and it has a strong balance sheet, the company has the financial flexibility to invest in growth projects. The midstream giant currently has about $6 billion of expansions under construction, including several large pipeline projects and associated processing plants. Those future additions have it on track to grow earnings by about 6% this year before accelerating to a more than 20% clip in 2020 . That high-octane earnings growth is enough to support ONEOK's plan to increase its dividend at a 9% to 11% annual rate through at least 2021.
ONEOK's combination o f dividend yield , financial strength, and visible growth makes it an ideal stock for retirees. It will supply them with a steadily rising income stream while offering low-risk upside potential .
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Changing merchandise, steady returns
Demitri Kalogeropoulos (TJX Companies): Trends change quickly in the retailing world, but one fact stays the same: Consumers are always on the hunt for discounts. That simple idea explains why TJX has been so successful, and why it's just the type of business retirees should love having in their portfolio.
The off-price giant, which owns Marshalls, T.J. Maxx, and HomeGoods, closed its 23rd consecutive year of sales growth in 2018. That positive momentum has carried through into early 2019 . Revenue gains beat management's predictions in the fiscal first quarter, marking a fourth straight beat. Comparable-store sales rose 5% to nearly match the holiday season's 6% spike.
TJX isn't nearly done boosting its store footprint, either. CEO Ernie Herrman has told investors to expect the retailer's base to rise to over 6,000 locations in just its existing markets over time, up from 4,300 today.
All of that success should support a growing dividend that will qualify the company as a Dividend Aristocrat (counting at least 25 consecutive annual payout raises) by 2020. Retirees don't have to wait for TJX to officially join that elite club, though, and can buy shares of this highly successful business today.
10 stocks we like better than WestRock
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Maxx Chatsko has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends ONEOK, The TJX Companies, and WestRock. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy .