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A Disciplined Approach to Dividend Stocks

Those that have read this space for any period of time are well aware of my enthusiasm for using dividend growth stocks as a vehicle for building long-term wealth and income. However, with that said, a successful investor must do more than just buy stocks that pay a growing dividend, or do more that focusing on a single metric such as dividend yield. Not all dividend stocks are created equal — there is a discipline to selecting good dividend growth stocks.

Understand Your Goal

What is your portfolio trying to accomplish? As odd is it may seem, many investors never define this and their overall goal. Are you buying stocks like Box Ships Inc. (TEU) with a 19% yield, Western Asset Mortgage Capital Corporation (NYSE:WMC) with a 17% yield, Annaly Capital Management Inc. (NYSE:NLY) with an 11% yield or Apollo Investment Corp. (NASDAQ:AINV) with a 10% yield? If your goal is short-term income these might work, and then again they might not.

Before buying any stock you should write down your investing goal and determine if purchasing that stock will bring you closer to your goal or take you further away. My goal is to generate an ever-increasing income stream from dividends. Thus, I will sacrifice some current income in favor of future growth and income sustainability.

Understand and Measure the Risk

No stock is 100% safe. Each stock has its own set of risks that need to be considered. The stocks listed above are considered high risk. In exchange for above-average current income, you may encounter above-average dividend cuts and/or loss of capital.

Gauging the relative risk of one stock compared to another is important when deciding which stock to buy or how much to weight a stock within your portfolio. I prefer lower risk stocks such as Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ), Procter & Gamble Co. (NYSE:PG) and McDonald's Corp. (NYSE:MCD).

A Disciplined Approach

For me and my income portfolio, I have chosen to follow a conservative and disciplined approach. This means I will seek out dividend stocks with a proven track record and good future prospects. These stocks will have a long history (10 or more years) of consecutive dividend increases, low debt, low free cash flow payout and excellent other dividend metrics. In addition, I will follow time-proven valuation techniques to select an entry point that will provide a good long-term value.

Stay The Course

There is always a temptation to stray from a disciplined approach of selecting good dividend stocks. Often I receive questions like, "Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) is making a fortune off the iPhone and iPads, why aren't you buying it?" or "Kraft Foods Inc. (KRFT) is a great consumer staple, why aren't you buying it?" The short answer is that neither currently can pass the entry exam to gain access to my income portfolio.

It is easy to become caught up with the current hot stock that everyone loves. The key to success is to buy before everyone else falls in love with it. Selecting good dividend growth stocks is not difficult, but being disciplined enough to do it is difficult for many investors.

Full Disclosure: Long MCD, PG, JNJ. See a list of all my dividend growth holdings here.

Related Articles

- The Secret Ingredient of Dividend Growth Stocks

- 9 High-Yield Stocks With A Low Price To Book

- Defined-Benefit Pension Plus Dividend Stocks For A Prosperous Retirement

- 5 Dividend Stocks To Buy And Hold, Not Buy And Forget

- Asset Allocation For Income Investors

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