By Dan Burrows, InvestorPlace Feature Writer
If there’s a bright side to the market’s recent stumbles, it’s that the aggregate yield on dividend stocks rose for the first time in months.
As anyone who’s been hunting for dividend stocks in this bull market knows, decent yields have been harder to find than ever. Sure, companies are shelling out record levels of cash on dividends and share buybacks, but record-high stock prices are tamping down dividend yields for new money. (Yields and prices move in opposite directions for dividend stocks.)
Now, for the first time since the market swooned in the spring, dividend yields are actually higher than they were a month ago. Indeed, the yield on the S&P 500 stands at 1.95%, according to Yardeni Research. A month ago it was 1.91%.
True, that’s still a pathetically slim dividend yield — something investors in dividend stocks have had to deal with throughout this period of rising prices and ultra-low interest rates. At this time last year, the dividend yield on the S&P 500 was 2.04%.
Fortunately for investors in dividend stocks, the stocks in S&P 500 with the highest dividend yields still offer plenty of income for new money.
To get a sense of the best dividend yields to be found, here are the top 10 S&P 500 dividend stocks for August. (Note: Dividend yields are as of Aug. 11.)
Top S&P 500 Dividend Stocks #10 — Kinder Morgan (KMI)
KMI Dividend: 4.4%
Kinder Morgan (KMI) rallied sharply Monday after announcing it would buy out its subsidiaries — a move that marks the second-largest deal of all-time for the energy pipeline sector. Fortunately for new money, the market’s excitement didn’t overwhelm the dividend, which still yields a top-10 level of 4.7%.
Fortunately, KMI hiked its dividend four months ago to maintain its generous payouts amid a rising share price. If you have new money to park in KMI, you should be pretty happy about that move.
What Kinder Morgan really needs is for demand for energy to pick up. In the meantime, the $70 billion deal and hefty dividends should bring plenty of new investors attention.
Top S&P 500 Dividend Stocks #9 — Teco Energy (TE)
TE Dividend: 4.9%
Teco Energy (TE) maintains its place among the top dividends stocks, but it gets no points for consistency. Shares that were trading above $18 a month ago are back down and only recently climbed back above $17.
Indeed, TE stock is up less than 3% YTD, giving up gains of as much as 7.2% in late June. A week ago it found itself negative for the year so far.
For the most recent quarter, TE missed earnings and revenue forecasts. For longer-term price performance, TE stocks needs some beat-and-raise quarters to get moving again. Until then, the dividend yield will have to do the heavy lifting for total return.
Top S&P 500 Dividend Stocks #8 — Health Care REIT (HCN)
HCN Dividend: 5%
Real estate investment trusts (REITs) are required to pay out most of their earnings as dividends in exchange for certain tax benefits, which is why so many of them make lists of top dividend stocks. And with a consistently high dividend yield, Health Care REIT (HCN) has become of the staples on our monthly list of dividend stocks.
Even better, HCN stock has been delivering on price appreciation, too. HCN stock is up more than 18% for the year-to-date.
HCN took advantage of a string of solid quarterly results — and a high share price — to sell more stock last spring. The company garnered $1 billion from a secondary offering that not only bolstered the balance sheet, but also proved how popular HCN stock is these days.
Top S&P 500 Dividend Stocks #7 — AT&T (T)
T Dividend Yield: 5.2%
Telecommunications are another sector to look at for generous dividend stocks, even if telcos are making the headlines recently for industry consolidation.
The big news this year for AT&T (T) is its offer to buy DirecTV (DTV), which should go through, pending regulatory approval. The deal was necessary to fend off competition from Comcast’s (CMCSA) plan to acquire Time Warner Cable (TWC).
A gusher of free cash flow makes is easy for T to make a nearly $50 billion acquisition and pay out very high dividends. Indeed, the blue chip always makes the list of top payers in the S&P 500.
Top S&P 500 Dividend Stocks #6 — HCP (HCP)
HCP Dividend: 5.3%
HCP (HCP) is another healthcare REIT with high dividends and proven defensive characteristics. Indeed, as a U.S. healthcare REIT, HCP stock is insulated from geopolitical troubles or European credit worries, helping it to zig when the market zags.
At the same time, HCP’s fundamentals have been propelling shares higher. HCP stock is up 13% so far this year.
A beat-and-raise first quarter — helped by higher revenue, not cost cuts — has given HCP stock a nice tailwind. An improving outlook for all healthcare REITs bodes well for further gains this year.
Top S&P 500 Dividend Stocks #5 — Ensco (ESV)
ESV Dividend: 5.4%
Like oil-and-gas pipeline companies, offshore drillers are also getting hurt by stagnant energy prices. A weak price environment doesn’t support more exploration, which means rates paid for rigs are under pressure.
Those weak industry fundamentals have shares in Ensco (ESV) down more than 14% so far this year. Offshore drilling stocks were thought to have put the worst of the selling behind them, but then ESV cratered in July — and there are few catalysts to get it moving again.
But with ESV stock sporting a dividend yield of more than 5%, at least shareholders are getting paid well while they wait for energy demand to bounce back.
Top S&P 500 Dividend Stocks #4 — CenturyLink (CTL)
CTL Dividend: 5.9%
Here’s where we get to the most amusing part of our list. CenturyLink (CTL) is the one of three telecom stocks that always hit the top spots for dividend stocks with their crazy-high dividend yields and poor long-term price performance. (Gushers of free cash flow make the payouts possible.)
That said, things have been going great up for CTL stock lately. Shares are up 27% for the year-to-date, outpacing the S&P 500 by about 23 percentage points.
The upside in price has dropped the yield on CTL below 6%, but given that the stock is a market-lagger for any time frame of 52 weeks and longer, shareholders probably aren’t complaining.
Top S&P 500 Dividend Stocks #3 — Frontier Communications (FTR)
FTR Dividend Yield: 6%
Yes, there are dividend stocks in the S&P 500 that yield at least 6%. Just look at Frontier Communications (FTR), the second of our regional telecoms with junk-bond-type yields.
FTR was a dog of a stock for ages, which partly accounts for its dividend yield. But cut to today, and FTR stock is having a incredible year. Indeed, it’s up almost 40% so far in 2014.
FTR is focusing on retaining customers and cutting costs. Analysts think FTR will post profit increases in both 2014 and 2015. Either way, as a telecom, FTR enjoys a river of free cash flow, which helps ensure the fat dividends will keep coming.
Top S&P 500 Dividend Stocks #2 — Transocean (RIG)
RIG Dividend Yield: 7.6%
Like ESV, Transocean (RIG) is an offshore driller than can’t do much about stagnant energy prices — and its share price has been getting clobbered for it.
RIG is off more than 20% for the year-to-date. In addition to a lower rate (and margin) environment, RIG is getting hurt by a large number of rigs coming off contract. The company is in the midst of a restructuring, which will spin off eight rigs into a new, publicly traded company, but that won’t do much for the stock in the short term.
Every time RIG looks to have found a floor in 2014, it has managed to disappoint once again. That keeps upping the dividend yield, but the total return is still negative.
Top S&P 500 Dividend Stocks #1 — Windstream Holdings (WIN)
WIN Dividend: 9.9%
The long-reigning champ of S&P 500 dividend stocks, Winstream Holdings (WIN) wins once again — but the yields sure is falling in a hurry. Sure, at 9.9%, WIN stock still yields more than your average junk bond, but that yield was above 12% when the year started.
Investors are happy with the reason for the decline in yield, however. WIN stock is up more than 40% for the year-to-date. This long-suffering stock now has a positive five-year chart, having bounced back from lows not seen since the financial crisis.
Just be forewarned that Windstream is highly leveraged and pays out more in dividends than it makes in earnings. It does, however, generate more than ample free cash flow, and that should keep the dividends coming.
As of this writing, Dan Burrows did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.