At first glance, Imperial Brands(LSE: IMB) may appear a dream selection for all of you dividend chasers out there.
Cigarette makers have, in days gone by, proved dependable bets for those seeking payout growth year after year. The addictive nature of tobacco smoking means that Imperial has been able to lift dividends even in times of rare earnings turbulence, safe in the knowledge that its beloved products should still deliver solid profits growth over a longer time frame.
An added bonus is the strength of its powerhouse brands like JPS, West and Winston, cartons which still command particular loyalty among the smoking community. Demand for these cigarettes continues to outperform that of the broader tobacco industry and the FTSE 100 firm saw volumes of its so-called Growth Brands rise 1.6% during October-March on an organic basis.
A third point in the plus column for Imperial Brands is the progress that the manufacturer is making in lucrative emerging markets. It continues to grab share in territories like Russia and Saudi Arabia while, more recently, the launch of its joint venture into China with China Tobacco has also proved a shrewd move with sales here growing strongly.
The attack on 'Big Tobacco' from legislators is clearly not as prevalent in these regions and, with populations booming and personal income levels steadily improving, some would suggest that the omens look good for dividends at Imperial Brands to keep on rising.
Indeed, City analysts are expecting a 192.3p per share reward for the year to September 2018, up from 207.1p last year and in spite of an anticipated 1% earnings decline. And for next year a 207.1p dividend is projected, assisted by a modest 2% profits rise.
Subsequent yields of 7.1% and 7.7% for fiscal 2018 and 2019 respectively may tempt many a share picker. However, I'm afraid to say that I am not one of them.
Running on fumes?
I actually used to own shares in Imperial Brands, but sold up once the full extent of legislators' wrath against the tobacco industry became apparent. Measures such as the introduction of public smoking bans and advertising curbs in Europe have already decimated smoker numbers there, and US lawmakers are contemplating rules to restrict the amount of nicotine per stick in a move that could hammer future revenues in this massive marketplace too.
There is clearly some way to go on this front in developing regions. However, the success of such restrictive measures concerning the usage, sale and advertising of cigarettes in territories from India to Uruguay shows that there is plenty for the likes of Imperial to fear for the years ahead.
What's more, it also cannot rely on much-hyped next generation products like vaporisers and thermal heating devices to replace the lost revenues from its traditional combustible products. As I noted recently, makers of such products (like British American Tobacco and Philip Morris) have seen uptake of these new devices slow to a crawl in some of their territories.
Right now Imperial Brands can be picked up on a forward P/E ratio of just 10.2 times. This is a reflection of the company's increasing risk profile rather than a symptom of an undervalued share. Investors should give the cigarette colossus a wide berth, in my opinion.
On a roll
I believe that those seeking big dividend payers with excellent exposure to emerging markets would be much better served by investing in Vodafone Group (LSE: VOD).
The communications giant saw organic service revenues in its Africa, Middle East and Asia Pacific (AMAP) territory boom 9.4% during the 12 months to March, even in spite of tough conditions in India where tough competition pushed sales 18.7% lower on a comparable basis.
However, Vodafone is doubling-down in this bright growth market to turn around its fortunes. The merger of Vodafone India and local operator Idea Cellular, the sign-off for which is expected any day now, will mark the first stage of a fightback against new entrants in the market by creating the country's largest mobile services provider.
Moreover, in a separate transaction, Vodafone in April agreed to the merger of Indus Towers and Bharti Infratel in a move that gives it a stake in the nation's largest listed tower operator.
But Vodafone is not only a great play on far-flung emerging markets, as evidenced by its acquisition of some of Liberty Global's assets last month. As well as boosting its foothold in Germany, the move also transforms the Footsie firm's position in Central and Eastern Europe, and more specifically the Czech Republic, Hungary and Romania. It is estimated that the deal will allow Vodafone to reach 6.4m homes and 15.8m cellphone users.
Get yourself connected
Now Vodafone is expected to endure a little earnings trouble in the near term, a 5% decline forecast for the current fiscal year by the City.
A 16% bounceback is predicted for the following period, though, and this does not seem an outlandish estimate by any means. After all, robust economic conditions in Europe, allied with a slew of fresh measures to bulk up its market share, should supplement strong revenues growth in its core operational heartlands (organic service revenues in its local continent rose 3% last year).
This bright long-term earnings picture, allied with resplendent cash flows, is expected to keep the dividend stable around the 15.07 euro-cents-per-share marker through to the close of fiscal 2020. And as a consequence, Vodafone offers up a stunning 7% yield through this period.
It may be expensive, but I believe Vodafone's brilliant growth prospects across the world make it worthy of a prospective P/E rating of 19.6 times.
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Royston Wild has no position in any of the shares mentioned. The Motley Fool UK has recommended Imperial Brands. 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.