As the bull market enters the fourth quarter of 2017 and ninth year of its extended move, portfolio managers are as eager as ever to own the crème-de-la-crème blue-chip stocks that offer the best total returns and include dividend income and capital appreciation. The higher the market trades, the more investors should expect an elevation of volatility. Fewer stocks will lead the market as it trades higher, and it is my view that the blue-chip stocks of companies that double their dividend payouts every five to eight years are going to be among those coveted holdings.
For instance, look at the semiconductor and semiconductor equipment sectors. These two areas have been true leaders within the Nasdaq for most of 2017. Some of these stocks have had torrid runs and trade at lofty levels that invite longer periods of consolidation to digest those big moves.
For money managers looking to stay invested in the chip space, but interested in finding deeper value, one idea is to turn to some of the legacy chipmakers and chip-equipment makers that are trading at much lower price-to-earnings (P/E) ratios and, at the same time, are hiking their dividends and increasing their stock repurchase plans.
One such stock that comes to mind is Texas Instruments (TXN). The company designs, manufactures and sells semiconductors to electronics designers and manufacturers worldwide, and its products are found in hundreds of commercial and consumer products primarily through the application of analog and embedded processing. Most traders don’t think of TXN as a sexy enough stock to trade compared to something along the lines of NVIDIA Inc. (NVDA), the Cinderella chip stock of 2017.
What is compelling about Texas Instruments is that the company is breaking out of a multi-month trading base on news that the chipmaker’s board raised the quarterly dividend by 24% and added a hefty share buyback authorization. The company will raise its quarterly dividend to 62 cents per share from 50 cents. Texas Instruments’s board also added $6 billion in share repurchase authority, in addition to the $44.6 billion in purchasing authority that remained at the end of June 2017.
This is mouthwatering news to institutional investors who are seeking stocks that offer yields at or near 3.0% and where the company itself is sitting on the bid, buying back its own shares, which reduces the number of outstanding shares and puts a net positive impact on earnings. As the chart below shows, the news put a fresh fire under TXN’s shares and it now has look of a stock that can easily trade 10-15% higher by the year’s end. That kind of fresh breakout chart is hard to find in the broader tech sector, where it would appear that for many stocks “the easy money has already been made.” Not so for TXN.
Companies the size and quality of TXN that raise their dividends by 24% get global attention from the financial community. It is exactly what long-term pension money is looking for, namely, growth at a reasonable price coupled with a robust dividend and stock repurchase plan.
Understand that not all legacy technology stocks are of equal significance. They must continue to reinvent themselves and adapt to new areas of growth, like artificial intelligence. Texas Instruments will be a big player in this fledgling technology. Other big legacy companies such as IBM, Cisco Systems and Hewlett-Packard have vast embedded systems that demonstrate little or no growth, and yet they have to service those customers. That is why the stocks struggle and dividend growth stalls out. Not every big-name tech stock has its day in the sun. The world has changed.
The market has been dominated by the FANG stocks and, true to form, they have provided great year-to-date results. However, with the exception of Netflix (NFLX), these market darlings are all trading off their highs and a couple are showing increased technical deterioration. Shares of Apple (AAPL) and Google (GOOG) in particular have been showing strong signs of deterioration of late, while shares of Texas Instruments and blue-chip chipmaker Analog Devices (ADI) have been breaking out to the upside.
I’m not saying the FANG stocks won’t reassert themselves and lead a Santa Claus rally. They very well might, but for now, they look crowded and tired.. The smart money is moving into big-name tech stocks that have hefty dividend payouts and that are staying on top of innovation within their markets and posting strong earnings as a result. As a student of sector and stock rotation, I think it’s always good to follow the money. Heading into the fourth quarter, it’s very good to see some trusted names emerging as new leaders.
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