High-Dividend Stocks May Offer the Best Value for Today's Investor

So here are four stocks with high dividends worth looking at for 2011

If you're one of those investors who goes for safety over risk, and wants a little income or cash flow thrown into the mix, stocks that offer high dividends might be the place for you. In fact, some investment strategists believe high-dividend stocks offer much better value right now than fixed-income alternatives.

However, investing in high dividend stocks can be tricky. You need to find a balance between a company that is doing very well financially, and will be paying dividends for the long term, but also has a high yield. Generally, the higher the dividend yield of a stock, the more risky the company is going to be. So a high dividend stock is a good investment only if the company is stable.

Just so we're clear, dividends from a stock are cash payments that a shareholder receives from the company, usually on a quarterly basis. Typically, the dividend is a fraction of the company's profits and given out to shareholder as a reward for investing in the company. As for what you should look for, bigger companies are usually more preferable than smaller ones because they're more likely to be able to survive the ups and downs of the economy.

Another thing to check is their dividend payment history as well as future earnings estimates. Rising or stable dividend payment histories are good signs.

In this particular climate you may want to consider this. The yield on 10-year Treasuries is 3.28%, and while that may be higher than the average dividend-paying stock in the S&P 500, which is 2.4%, it comes without the potential upside of price appreciation or future dividend increases.

According to the wise folks at Fortune magazine, one key to identifying a safe dividend investment is to target companies that have abundant free cash flow and low debt ratios. That means they have a lot of cash on hand and don't owe that much money relative to what they earn.

Fortune surveyed some top dividend-focused mutual fund managers and came up with four stocks with above-average yields, strong balance sheets, and good growth prospects.

So here they are:

Bristol-Myers Squibb, which has the ticker symbol BMY, offers a dividend yield of 5%. With $8.5 billion in cash on its books, the big pharmaceutical company is considered a safe dividend play, according to Jim Cullen of the Cullen High Dividend Equity Fund. He also likes its drug pipeline, which is stocked with cancer treatments.

Second is National Grid, with a ticker symbol NGG. The British utility has a dividend yield of 4.7%. It derives over half of its sales from its U.S. operations. It has significant growth potential in the U.K., where a friendly regulatory environment gives it strong pricing power.

Third is People's United Financial, ticker symbol PBCT. The New England Bank has a dividend yield of 5% and actually grew its dividend yield through the financial crisis.

Finally, Unilever, with the ticker symbol UL, has a dividend yield of 4%. The consumer goods giant has $57 billion in sales and is growing rapidly in emerging markets, which now generate about half of the company's total sales.

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