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UnitedHealth Group Inc. (UNH), American Express Company (AXP): The Dow Jones Industrial Average (.DJI)’s Safest Dividends

One remarkable fact about the Dow Jones Industrial Average (Dow Jones Indices:.DJI) is that all 30 of its components pay dividends. But as we saw during the financial crisis, just because a stock pays a dividend now doesn’t mean that it will necessarily be able to keep paying that dividend into the future.

Investors can’t afford to get stuck with a dividend stock that doesn’t deliver on its promise to provide steady income. So with that in mind, let’s take a closer look at the stocks in the Dow to see if we can find the ones that are in the best position to keep making their current payouts for years to come.

A healthy dividend

UnitedHealth Group Inc

Among Dow stocks, UnitedHealth Group Inc. (NYSE:UNH) leads the way in dividend strength with a ratio of dividends to earnings of just 16% on a trailing basis. That number will go up on a forward basis, simply because UnitedHealth boosted its payout by a whopping 32% earlier this month.

Even with the increase, though, UnitedHealth Group Inc. (NYSE:UNH)’s 1.8% yield still lags well behind the Dow’s 2.5% average. Health-insurance companies historically have tended to hold onto their cash rather than raising payouts, but lately, dividends have been on the rise, and UnitedHealth Group Inc. (NYSE:UNH)’s actions show just how much investors expect successful companies to share their profits.

Don’t leave home without dividends

American Express Company (NYSE:AXP) is in much the same position as UnitedHealth Group Inc. (NYSE:UNH), with its 20% payout ratio slated to rise after AmEx’s 15% dividend hike at the end of April. American Express Company (NYSE:AXP) has an even less attractive yield, though, with its new dividend raising its yield to just 1.3%.

American Express Company (NYSE:AXP) has recovered well from the financial crisis, but what it needs to bolster growth is to attract a wider customer base. With a new prepaid debit card to serve the underbanked population, American Express Company (NYSE:AXP) could find a whole new set of customers to help it increase its profits even further going forward.

Low dividends are easier to pay

When you look at the rest of the low-payout-ratio list, you’ll see similarly conservative dividend practices. The Walt Disney Company (NYSE:DIS) has just a 22% payout ratio, but its dividend yield is just 1.2%, despite having the huge profit engines of Marvel-based movies and its blockbuster media network to rely on. Similarly, International Business Machines Corp. (NYSE:IBM) has made great strides in the tech industry, diversifying early beyond its former reliance on hardware and scoring much more lucrative high-margin business in other sectors. But even after a recent dividend increase, IBM still yields less than 2%.