Historically, income stocks get hit hard when companies announce a cut to their dividends. But back in 2008 and 2009, investors even regarded companies with a long track record of raising their payouts with a jaundiced eye. Companies that maintained or grew their payout amid the worst economic downturn of the post-war era saw their stocks tumble 50% or more as investors sold everything to raise cash. In some cases, there was a valid rationale for investors' skepticism, while in others it was simply a case of pure panic among the investment public -- investors adopted a sell first and think later approach.
As any investor who lived through the collapse of late 2008 and early 2009 can tell you, that was a scary environment. But the fear-driven sell-off also presented myriad opportunities for investors who could maintain a cooler head and patiently buy quality companies from within the maelstrom.
Case in point: Teekay LNG Partners (TGP), which is a member of one of my High-Yield International portfolios, offered a yield of 24.2% at its lows in October 2008, despite the fact that the energy-shipping partnership actually announced a dividend hike in late 2008 and has never cut its payout since going public in 2006.
In addition, all of Teekay LNG's carriers were leased out to major oil companies such as Exxon Mobil (XOM) under long-term contracts at fixed day-rates. Cash-rich Big Oil companies never experienced a funding crunch even as credit markets soured, as most had plenty of cash on hand to fund ongoing business needs.
Fast-forward to today, and it's a lot harder to find quality stocks yielding more than 10% in the current environment. While stocks have hardly enjoyed an uninterrupted rally since the 2009 lows, and the economic recovery is far from robust, the mindless panic that gripped global markets in late 2008 has dissipated. Investors have become far more rational again and differentiate between quality companies that can maintain their payouts and those that can't. While some shakier companies may offer 10% or even 15% yields, those payouts are the market's way of compensating investors for above-average risk of a dividend cut.
But just because finding companies offering double-digit yields has become harder, it doesn't mean it's impossible. And the recent sharp downturn in stock markets has pushed some quality dividend-paying stocks down enough that they're now offering double-digit payout potential.
I found several foreign stocks trading on the major U.S. exchanges with an average trading volume of at least 2,500 shares per day that are worth a look. These are companies that have produced positive dividend growth in the past five years, and almost all of them have positive returns so far in 2012.
Risks to Consider: Now remember, these dividend yields are so high for a reason. Share prices have been punished, and the market has priced in the possibility of a dividend cut. With that said, the fact that these companies have raised dividends during the past five years should be seen as a positive.