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International Business Machines Corp. (IBM) vs. AT&T Inc. (T): Tale Of The Tape

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International Business Machines Corp. (NYSE:IBM)Dividend stocks outperform non-dividend-paying stocks over the long run. It happens in good markets and bad, and the benefit of dividends can be quite striking — dividend payments have made up about 40% of the market’s average annual return from 1936 to the present day. But few of us can invest in every single dividend-paying stock on the market, and even if we could, we might find better gains by being selective. That’s why we’ll be pitting two of the Dow Jones Industrial Average‘s dividend payers against each other today to find out which Dow stock is the true dividend champion. Let’s take a closer look at our two contenders now.

Tale of the tape
International Business Machines Corp. (NYSE:IBM) will be a 34-year veteran of the Dow by the end of next month. Based in the suburbs north of New York City, IBM has been producing cutting-edge technology for over a century, which gives it real claim to the title of “World’s Oldest Tech Company.” IBM employs over 430,000 people, but it’s remarkably nimble for such a massive company. “Nonstrategic” parts of International Business Machines Corp. (NYSE:IBM)’s business worth a total of $15 billion in annual revenue have been divested over the past decade, and its three major new initiatives (Smarter Planet, data analytics, and cloud services) all enjoyed double-digit revenue growth in 2012. Due to the Dow’s price-weighting system, IBM is its single most important component — a move in International Business Machines Corp. (NYSE:IBM) stock prices will have several times the impact of a move in nearly every other stock on the Dow.

AT&T Inc. (NYSE:T) has been part of the Dow for over 13 years under its new corporate identity, but the original telecom has been a component in one form or another, without interruption, for 74 years. Like International Business Machines Corp. (NYSE:IBM), AT&T Inc. (NYSE:T) was one of the earlier Dow components, but was removed during the tumultuous Roaring ’20s (IBM actually lost its original spot on the Dow to AT&T Inc. (NYSE:T) in 1939 when the latter rejoined). Although AT&T is now primarily known as a wireless service provider (it has 107 million wireless subscribers), the company also provides broadband access, cable television subscriptions, and other connectivity services. All told, AT&T Inc. (NYSE:T)’s Internet backbone carries an estimated 33 petabytes of data each day. That’s over 15 million hours of high-definition streaming video!

Statistic IBM AT&T
Market cap $226.7 billion $201.0 billion
P/E Ratio 14.1 29.1
Trailing 12-month profit margin 16.1% 5.8%
TTM free cash flow margin* 15.0% 15.8%
Five-year total return 77.9% 25.9%

Source: Morningstar and YCharts.
* Free cash flow margin is free cash flow divided by revenue for the trailing 12 months.

Although International Business Machines Corp. (NYSE:IBM) squeaks ahead on market cap and profit margin while posting a far better total return for the past five years, AT&T Inc. (NYSE:T) is no slouch on free cash flow, which is an important consideration for dividend sustainability. Which of these two old-guard tech purveyors will triumph today?

Round one: endurance
Both IBM and AT&T have a long history of dividends. IBM began paying dividends all the way back in 1913, and has been making quarterly distributions since 1916, for a 97-year streak. However, AT&T’s dividend history dates all the way back to 1893, for an uninterrupted streak of 120 years. Sorry, International Business Machines Corp. (NYSE:IBM). This is one contest you joined too late.

Round two: stability

Paying dividends is well and good, but how long have our two companies been increasing their dividends? The same dividend payout year after year can quickly fall behind a rising market, and there’s no better sign of a company’s financial stability than a rising payout in a weak market (as long as it’s sustainable, of course).

International Business Machines Corp. (NYSE:IBM) suffered a tough time in the early 1990s as its commitment to competing for PC market share eroded profitability. The company had to lower dividends as a result, which means that dividend growth has only been under way since 1996. AT&T Inc. (NYSE:T), on the other hand, has been raising its payouts since 1959, following an extended streak of stable dividends.

Round three: power

It’s not that hard to commit to paying back shareholders, but are these payments enticing, or merely tokens? Let’s take a look at how both companies have maintained their dividend yields over time as their businesses and share prices have grown:

International Business Machines Corp. (IBM) vs. AT&T Inc. (T): Which Dow Stock's Dividend Dominates?

IBM Dividend Yield data by YCharts

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