Dividend Aristocrats, Kings & Other Stock Market Royalty

When it comes to investing, most of my money is in a Vanguard fund or ETF. It’s not nearly as simple as a three-fund portfolio but it’s pretty close. However, there is a little piece of it in some stocks because we all need to live a little.

To scratch that stock picking itch in the most responsible way possible, I built a dividend growth portfolio. It’s nothing flashy, but after ten years, it’s grown considerably. It now provides a nice monthly cash flow even though I didn’t design it to be a monthly dividend paycheck!

I didn’t pick any old dividend funds, I started with dividend royalty.

Table of Contents
  1. What are Dividend Aristocrats?
    1. Which Companies are Aristocrats?
    2. Dividend Kings
    3. Dividend Champions
  2. Are They Good Investments?
  3. How to Buy Dividend Aristocrat Stocks
    1. The Better Way to Hold All 65 Dividend Aristocrats Stocks
    2. Past Performance
  4. Summary

What are Dividend Aristocrats?

Dividend Aristocrats are companies in the S&P 500 that have increased their dividends every year for twenty-five years straight. The list itself is maintained by the S&P and updated every year.

Consider the criteria for a second – the companies on the list have all increased their dividends each year for at least twenty-five years. If your company only maintains the dividend, you drop off the list. If you pause the dividend, see ya later. You have to increase it each year (if only by a penny) and you can’t miss it for at least twenty-five years.

It’s a high bar.

If you think back to all the financial and economic events of the last twenty-five years, they include the 2008-2010 Great Recession as well as the 2001 Dot-Com Bust. In fact, in 2009, nine companies fell from the Dividend Aristocrats list (two were added, Bemis and Leggett & Platt). In 2010, ten more fell with only one addition (Brown Forman).

Which Companies are Aristocrats?

For 2021, we had three additions and two deletions. Additions are International Business Machines (IBM), NextEra Energy (NEE), and West Pharmaceutical Services (WST). Deletions are Ross Stores (ROST) and United Technologies Corp. (UTX). There are now 65 Dividend Aristocrats, compared with 64 last year.

Here is the full list of Dividend Aristocrats as of February 1, 2021:

1. AbbVie Inc. (ABBV)

2. Abbott Laboratories (ABT)

3. Archer-Daniels-Midland Co. (ADM)

4. Automatic Data Processing Inc. (ADP)

5. Aflac Inc. (AFL)

6. Albemarle Corp (ALB)

7. Amcor PLC (AMCR)

8. A.O. Smith (AOS)

9. Air Products and Chemicals Inc. (APD)

10. Atmos Energy Corp (ATO)

11. Becton, Dickinson and Co. (BDX)

12. Franklin Resources Inc. (BEN)

13. Brown-Forman Corp. B (BF.B)

14. Cardinal Health Inc. (CAH)

15. Caterpillar Inc. (CAT)

16. Chubb Ltd. (CB)

17. Cincinnati Financial Corp. (CINF)

18. Colgate-Palmolive Co. (CL)

19. The Clorox Co. (CLX)

20. Cintas Corp. (CTAS)

21. Chevron Corp. (CVX)

22. Dover Corp. (DOV)

23. Ecolab Inc. (ECL)

24. Consolidated Edison Inc. (ED)

25. Emerson Electric Co. (EMR)

26. Essex Property Trust, Inc. (ESS)

27. Expeditors International (EXPD)

28. Federal Realty Investment Trust (FRT)

29. General Dynamics Corp. (GD)

30. Genuine Parts Co. (GPC)

31. W.W. Grainger Inc. (GWW)

32. Hormel Foods Corp. (HRL)

33. Illinois Tool Works Inc. (ITW)

34. Johnson & Johnson (JNJ)

35. Kimberly-Clark Corp. (KMB)

36. The Coca-Cola Co. (KO)

37. Leggett & Platt Inc. (LEG)

38. Linde PLC (LIN)

39. Lowe’s Companies Inc. (LOW)

40. McDonald’s Corp. (MCD)

41. Medtronic plc (MDT)

42. McCormick & Co. Inc. (MKC)

43. 3M Co. (MMM)

44. Nucor Corp. (NUE)

45. Realty Income Corporation (O)

46. People’s United Financial Inc. (PBCT)

47. PepsiCo Inc. (PEP)

48. The Procter & Gamble Co. (PG)

49. Pentair plc (PNR)

50. PPG Industries Inc. (PPG)

51. Roper Technologies (ROP)

52. Sherwin-Williams (SHW)

53. S&P Global (SPGI)

54. Stanley Black & Decker Inc. (SWK)

55. Sysco Corp. (SYY)

56. AT&T Inc. (T)

57. Target Corp. (TGT)

58. T. Rowe Price Group Inc. (TROW)

59. V.F. Corp. (VFC)

60. Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. (WBA)

61. Walmart Inc. (WMT)

62. Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM)

63. International Business Machines (IBM) – New for 2021!

64. NextEra Energy (NEE) – New for 2021!

65. West Pharmaceutical Services (WST) – New for 2021!

The S&P keeps an official list of the Dividend Aristocrats because they have a fund for it – SPDAUDP.

The best ticker award has to go to ProShares and their S&P 500 Dividend Aristocrats ETF – NOBL. You can see their holdings as of 2/1/2021.

Dividend Kings

If you thought that becoming a Dividend Aristocrat was difficult, wait until you hear what it takes to be a Dividend King.

To be a Dividend King, you must have fifty years of increasing dividends. This list is naturally a subset of the Dividend Aristocrats: (as of April 2021)

1. ABM Industries, Inc. (ABM)

2. American States Water Co. (AWR)

3. Commerce Bancshares, Inc. (CBSH)

4. Cincinnati Financial Corp. (CINF)

5. Colgate-Palmolive Co. (CL)

6. California Water Service Group (CWT)

7. Dover Corp. (DOV)

8. Emerson Electric Co. (EMR)

9. Farmers & Merchants Bancorp (FMCB)

10. Federal Realty Investment Trust (FRT)

11. Genuine Parts Co. (GPC)

12. Hormel Foods Corp. (HRL)

13. Johnson & Johnson (JNJ)

14. The Coca-Cola Co. (KO)

15. Lancaster Colony Corp. (LANC)

16. Lowe’s Cos., Inc. (LOW)

17. 3M Co. (MMM)

18. Nordson Corp. (NDSN)

19. Northwest Natural Gas (NWN)

20. Procter & Gamble Co. (PG)

21. Parker-Hannifin Corp. (PH)

22. Stepan Co. (SCL)

23. SJW Group (SJW)

24. Stanley Black & Decker, Inc. (SWK)

25. Tootsie Roll Industries, Inc. (TR)

26. Altria Group, Inc. (MO)

27. H.B. Fuller (FUL)

28. Sysco Corp (SYY)

29. Universal Corp (UVV)

30. National Fuel Gas (NFG)

31.  Black Hills Corp (BKH)

If you look back at all the economic turmoil in the last fifty years, we’ve had several massive upheavals. You take all the chaos of the last twenty-five years and then add another twenty-five years. We now stretch into the recession of the early-1980s and the oil crisis of the late 1970s!

As an aside, one of the surprising facts about investing is that corrections are not uncommon – they happen all of the time (average is once a year).

Dividend Champions

Dividend Champions is a similar list (25 years of increased dividends) but the list is longer for two reasons:

  • Champions include companies not in the S&P 500.
  • The Aristocrats list is updated annually whereas Champions are updated monthly.

Whereas the Aristocrats are around sixty-ish companies and Kings is around thirty-ish, the Champions list is over a hundred. (140 as of this writing)

I find that the best list of Dividend Champions can be found at the DRiP Investing Resource Center.

Are They Good Investments?

Much like other named groups of companies, like Dogs of the Dow, these are good starting points, but you shouldn’t just take the list and invest as is.

There have been several backdated tests of investing in dividend royalty and depending on the period, they can do better or worse than the S&P 500 as a whole.

My goal in starting my analysis with dividend royalty isn’t to beat the S&P 500. In fact, I’m not trying to beat anything. I’m trying to build a portfolio that can provide predictable cash flow so it can supplement my entrepreneurial pursuits. If you’re comparing them with the S&P 500, I think you’re playing the wrong game by using the dividend aristocrats or kings as your starting point.

If you want growth, you should be investing in companies that pay zero dividends. You want companies who have opportunities to invest their cash and not have it leave the company as dividends. By retaining those earnings and investing in projects, they create potential future growth opportunities. Dividends are great for investors who want cash but bad for the companies who want to grow. Some would say that paying dividends is a sign the company doesn’t have something better to invest in, which is a bad sign for growth.

How to Buy Dividend Aristocrat Stocks

There are two basic ways to buy Dividend Aristocrats stocks: buy them directly or through an exchange traded fund (ETF).

Buying all 65 Dividend Aristocrats stocks, though possible using fractional shares, is impractical. Managing a portfolio of that money stocks could easily turn into a part-time job.

As I’ve shown above, the companies that make up the Dividend Aristocrats changes. Each year a small number of companies fall out, and a roughly equivalent number are added. Making those changes on an annual basis won’t be especially difficult. But maintaining target allocations of the stocks will be a complicated process. You’ll need to rebalance your portfolio every few months, since the value of each stock in the portfolio will change.

A better strategy, if you want to hold individual stocks directly, will be to select maybe eight or 10 out of the 65. That’ll give you an opportunity to invest in the companies you consider to be most attractive, while also cutting down on the project that managing 65 stocks will create.

The Better Way to Hold All 65 Dividend Aristocrats Stocks

If you do want to invest in all 65 stocks, you can do it through Dividend Aristocrats EFTs. They hold all the stocks on the list, and handle portfolio management and rebalancing for you.

Examples of top ETFs includes:

  • FT CBOE Vest S&P 500® Dividend Aristocrats Target Income ETF® (KNG)
  • ProShares S&P 500 Dividend Aristocrats (NOBL)

Whether you choose to invest in individual companies or in a Dividend Aristocrats ETF, you can purchase your positions commission-free through brokers like Ally Invest, Robinhood, and Webull.

If you prefer having your portfolio professionally managed, you can invest in either Dividend Aristocrats stocks or ETFs using a robo-advisor, like M1 Finance. Since they allow you to choose your own investments, whether stocks for ETFs, you can build a portfolio of Dividend Aristocrats that will be fully managed by M1 Finance free of charge.

Past Performance

You know what they say about past performance not being indicative of future returns… companies are on the list until they’re not. It’s not uncommon for companies who have been on the list for many years to find themselves in bad situations.

So they offer a good starting point, but you should still do your due diligence to decide which companies to invest in.

Summary

If you want to add an income component to your stock portfolio, Dividend Aristocrats are one of the best ways to do that. Not only do they provide steady income from the dividends they pay, but they also have a long track record of respectable capital gains.

No, they won’t produce the kinds of capital gains you’ll get from growth stocks. But in addition to the income they provide, they can also add stability to your portfolio. That’s because dividend paying stocks tend to weather market downturns better than growth stocks. That’s especially true of Dividend Aristocrats, because they represent some of the biggest and best-established companies in the country.

Are Dividend Aristocrats for everyone? Maybe not. But they’re a pretty safe bet if you’re looking for that rare combination of income and growth.

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About Jim Wang

Jim Wang is a thirty-something father of four who is a frequent contributor to Forbes and Vanguard's Blog. He has also been fortunate to have appeared in the New York Times, Baltimore Sun, Entrepreneur, and Marketplace Money.

Jim has a B.S. in Computer Science and Economics from Carnegie Mellon University, an M.S. in Information Technology - Software Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University, as well as a Masters in Business Administration from Johns Hopkins University. His approach to personal finance is that of an engineer, breaking down complex subjects into bite-sized easily understood concepts that you can use in your daily life.

One of his favorite tools (here's my treasure chest of tools,, everything I use) is Personal Capital, which enables him to manage his finances in just 15-minutes each month. They also offer financial planning, such as a Retirement Planning Tool that can tell you if you're on track to retire when you want. It's free.

He is also diversifying his investment portfolio by adding a little bit of real estate. But not rental homes, because he doesn't want a second job, it's diversified small investments in a few commercial properties and farms in Illinois, Louisiana, and California through AcreTrader.

Recently, he's invested in a few pieces of art on Masterworks too.

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  1. Vera says

    I’m so confused. Here’s the whole article about Dividend Royalty and you claim that’s what you started with, then in the last few paragraphs you say that’s the wrong way to go. Wha….???

    • Jim Wang says

      You can start your research with these companies as a starting point but you still need to research them – you can’t just buy them blindly and assume you’ll do well. If you want to take that type of approach, get an index fund.

  2. Bob says

    Are you sure about these statements?

    For Dividend Aristocrats, the dividend yield needs to increase each year.
    For Champions, the amount of the dividend has to increase.

    Increasing yield doesn’t make sense to me. How do you increase yield? I guess you could either raise the amount of the dividend or dilute the shares, but that wouldn’t be very aristocratic.

    • Jim Wang says

      Hi Bob – you are correct, I misinterpreted the rules and updated the original post. Originally, I thought that they had different definitions but they are the same with regard to the definition of “increasing.”

  3. Nancy Schmoyer says

    Hello.. I am recently retired and have been managing the family nest egg since 1980. I need a free dividend calendar to track my dividend stocks pay date etc. Any suggestions? I signed up for Personal Capitol and don’t really need the month to month cash flow tracking for normal life finances.. but I would like something that categorizes my stocks according to multiple things ..like sector and month paid out and per cent of total personal NAV , current update on yields etc.
    Again any suggestions? I have Mac desktop to work on wit h good internet speed

    • Jim Wang says

      Hi Nancy – unfortunately, I don’t know of a tool that will do all the things you’re asking about. 🙁

      I’ll keep looking and it might make for a good post in the future!

  4. Petra says

    Hi Jim,

    Well put, that investing in Dividend Growth means investing in income, not too much on capital gains.

    I also think that comparing results to the S&P 500 and claiming you beat the market is ridiculous.
    Do you think it is better to compare your results against last years results? Dividend growth, yield on cost growth, for example of your own portfolio.

    Or make that a benchmark out of the average of all Dividend Kings and Aristocrats, or Challengers, Contenders and Champions a ?
    Average yield, average 5-dividend growth etc.

    Love to hear you insights on what to compare a dividend growth portfolio to.

    Petra,
    Hong Kong Dividend Stocks

    • Jim Wang says

      Hi Petra –
      I didn’t claim I beat the market, I said my goal isn’t to try to beat the market. I’m trying to build a portfolio that will generate cash flow to establish a predictable source of income to counter the “lumpier” income from my businesses. If anything, I compare it to a job.

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