While the near-term outlook for China and the emerging world may be rather uncertain, Unilever (LSE: ULVR) continues to offer robust dividend prospects. Certainly, the majority of its sales are derived from the developing world, but it still has a large amount of headroom when making shareholder payouts. This means that even if profitability comes under pressure, Unilever should still be able to easily afford its current level of payments.
For example, Unilever's dividends are covered 1.5 times by profit. This is a healthy coverage ratio and with the company's bottom line set to rise by 8% in the current year and by a further 7% next year, there's scope for similar rises in dividends during the same time period.
Furthermore, the longer-term outlook for Unilever's dividend payments is also very bright since the emerging world offers tremendous growth opportunities for consumer goods companies. Therefore, even though its yield of 3.1% may not be among the highest in the FTSE 100, Unilever continues to be an exceptionally appealing long-term income play.
Also offering robust dividends is Pennon(LSE: PNN). The utility play has been able to increase shareholder payouts by 35% during the last five years, which works out as an annualised growth rate of over 6%. This rate of growth is significantly higher than the rate of inflation and means that as well as a generous yield, Pennon's shareholders have also received a real-terms increase in their income too.
That situation looks set to continue because Pennon is expected to increase its dividends by 14.5% during the next two years. And with the company's bottom line due to rise at a similar rate during the period, Pennon's dividend increases appear to be fully funded by profit growth.
With Pennon's business model being highly resilient, it offers a very stable income outlook. Given the uncertainty present in stock markets, this could prove to be a major benefit to the company's investors, while its yield of 4.6% is also highly appealing.
Meanwhile, Royal Mail(LSE: RMG) is also a relatively high-yielding stock, with its yield currently standing at 5.1%. This could easily rise in future though, since Royal Mail has substantial scope to increase dividends owing to its relatively low payout ratio.
In fact, it currently pays out just 58% of profit as a dividend and while it will need to reinvest a generous portion of profit within the business for future growth, the payout ratio could increase, medium term, and still leave it in a healthy financial position.
Although Royal Mail's business model is perhaps less stable than those of Unilever and Pennon, as evidenced by its expected 10% decline in earnings in the current financial year, its higher yield and scope for rapid dividend growth appear to make up for this. As such, Royal Mail seems to be a worthwhile income investment, although it may prove to be somewhat less reliable than a number of its index peers.
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Peter Stephens owns shares of Pennon Group, Royal Mail, and Unilever. The Motley Fool UK owns shares of and has recommended Unilever. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.