Oftentimes one of the most nerve-wracking bits of investing in equities is when just starting off. Which is why I think new investors would be well served if they dip their toes into stock market investing by checking out passive investment vehicles such as market-tracking ETFs or investing in blue-chip companies with a record of consistent growth and solid dividends.
An all-weather favourite
One individual firm that I think fits the bill is drinks maker Britvic (LSE: BVIC). While many players in the drinks industry are facing down the difficulties that come from shifting consumer habits, Britvic is still doing very well.
This is partly thanks to a dual-pronged business model that sees it bottling drinks in the UK for global giant Pepsi, as well as selling its own brands at home and internationally. This has worked very well for the company and has fuelled consistent revenue growth over the past few years with the potential for more to come in the long term, thanks to inroads being made in large markets like the USA and Brazil.
But the company's management team isn't solely focused on top-line growth and in recent years has increased its focus on margin improvements via actions such as factory consolidation and investments in automation. With underlying operating margins already improving to a respectable 11% in the first half of the year, shareholders should be very excited going forward.
This is good news for the company's already impressive dividend that has increased steadily for over a decade and currently yields 3.3% annually. With very good income, an attractive valuation, growth prospects internationally and relatively non-cyclical sales, I think new investors would be well served considering Britvic for the long term.
A surprising growth option
Another company that has a very good record of steadily upping dividend payouts is retailer WH Smith (LSE: SMWH). This may come as a surprise to some who associate the company first and foremost with struggling high streets, but the business and its stock price have soared in the past few years.
The secret sauce in this case has been its shift towards investing in high growth travel outlets that sell magazines, snacks and other goods to captive audiences in train stations and airports. In the quarter to March, sales at the group's expanding roster of travel outlets were up by 8% year-on-year thanks to new outlet openings with substantial like-for-like growth of 3%.
Meanwhile, the high street business is being run for its still considerable profits. In the same quarter sales from these stores fell 1% but management's strong focus on cost-cutting saw gross margins bump up. Over the long term the high street business will likely slowly fade away thanks to shifting consumer habits. But for WH Smith this shouldn't be that damaging as the high street business is still kicking off cash flow on the way down and the travel business is quickly picking up the slack.
Together, the two divisions kicked off £37m in free cash flow in H1 that allowed management to pay out a very nice dividend that currently yields 2.47% as well as continue a substantial share buyback programme while keeping net debt low at just £15m. With great shareholder returns and a strong management team, I think WH Smith remains one strong income stock to watch.
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Ian Pierce has no position in any of the shares mentioned. The Motley Fool UK owns shares of and has recommended Britvic. The Motley Fool UK has recommended WH Smith. Views expressed on the companies mentioned in this article are those of the writer and therefore may differ from the official recommendations we make in our subscription services such as Share Advisor, Hidden Winners and Pro. Here at The Motley Fool we believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.