Your corner pharmacy might not seem like a worthwhile investment idea, but what you may be surprised to know is that the stocks of the major drug stores in the United States are on fire. In recent months, investors of stocks such as Rite Aid Corporation (NYSE:RAD) and CVS Caremark Corporation (NYSE:CVS) have been handsomely rewarded with skyrocketing returns.
Within the drug store industry, there’s one company that leads the rest in terms of consistency of results and level of shareholder friendliness. That company is Walgreen Company (NYSE:WAG), and dividend growth investors would be wise to consider adding it to their portfolios.
Rising dividends, and the profits to back it up
Very recently, Walgreen Company (NYSE:WAG) announced it had increased its shareholder payout by nearly 15%. Investors are long used to this by now.
Walgreen Company (NYSE:WAG) shareholders have received quarterly dividend payments for 323 consecutive quarters, a streak spanning more than 80 years. In addition, the company has bumped up its distribution to shareholders for a terrific 38 years in a row.
Close competitor CVS Caremark Corporation (NYSE:CVS) also has a solid dividend track record. Earlier this year, the company raised its dividend for the tenth year in a row. CVS provided its investors with a gigantic 38% pay increase. Although an increase of that magnitude is obviously impressive, it’s worth noting CVS’s much shorter history of dividend raises, and the fact that even with the increase, CVS Caremark Corporation (NYSE:CVS) yields just 1.5% at recent prices.
Of course, no company can maintain such an impressive history of shareholder rewards without a proven business model that has demonstrated financial success for years.
Thankfully, Walgreen Company (NYSE:WAG) has just that. The company generated record adjusted earnings in the third quarter of $812 million, a nearly 30% increase year over year. Impressively, Walgreen racked up $1.4 billion in cash flow from operations in the third quarter.
The good news didn’t stop there for Walgreen Company (NYSE:WAG). The drug store giant posted $5.79 billion in sales in June, representing 2.5% growth year over year.
This is the engine behind Walgreen’s hugely impressive track record of rewarding shareholders, a trend that should continue into the foreseeable future. Walgreen Company (NYSE:WAG) has a valuable brand and is only going to grow its store openings going forward.
Rite Aid Corporation (NYSE:RAD) is a turnaround play in every sense of the word. After trading under $1 per share as recently as December 2012, the stock has nearly tripled to its current level. There’s a good reason for the stock’s struggles, as Rite Aid Corporation (NYSE:RAD) had reported massive operating losses for several years in a row.