This Passive-Income Champion Hasn’t Missed a Dividend in 187 Years

Bank of Montreal (TSX:BMO)(NYSE:BMO) has the longest consecutive dividend streak of any Canadian company. But that’s not the only reason to own this financial powerhouse.

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Most dividend investors value a company’s ability to pay a consistent dividend through thick and thin.

It proves several things. Firstly, it shows investors that the company is serious about giving back to shareholders. It also demonstrates that the company has a consistent history of profitability. And it means the company has the ability to survive anything the market throws at it. Every company suffers weakness at some point; the strong continue to be profitable and pay dividends throughout.

These are the kinds of companies dividend investors love to hold.

There’s one Canadian company that leaves the others in the dust. It’s paid investors a dividend each year since 1829, a streak that’s lasted 187 years.

A lot has happened in the last couple centuries. Canada wasn’t even a country for the first 38 of those years. The world suffered through many recessions, depressions, and wars. Stock markets around the world periodically crashed, taking countless companies down with them. We went from not having indoor plumbing to having devices with access to almost any information imaginable–that fit in our pocket.

Throughout all of this, Bank of Montreal (TSX:BMO)(NYSE:BMO) has been paying investors a steadily increasing dividend like clockwork. Here’s why the company is well prepared to continue its dividend streak for the next 187 years.

Diverse operations

Bank of Montreal has come a long way from its origins, where it began in a rented house in the core of Canada’s second-largest city.

It has expanded operations across Canada and into the United States. The Canadian banking business boasts more than eight million customers, serviced by some 900 branches and 3,400 bank machines. It has operations in every province.

In the United States, BMO’s business is centred in the Midwest; its subsidiary Harris Bank has its headquarters in Chicago. In total, BMO Harris Bank has more than two million customers that do business using approximately 600 branches and 1,300 bank machines.

It also has important wealth management and capital markets divisions. In the most recent quarter, the capital markets part of the company contributed $260 million to the bottom line, while wealth management added $176 million in profits. Overall, these two parts of the company contribute about 40% of its profits.

The company is expanding beyond its traditional banking roots into more specialized lines of business. In September it announced an $11.5 billion acquisition of General Electric’s auto financing unit. The nice thing about this business is it specializes in lending against trucks and trailers, not against cars for regular folks–a part of the market many investors feel is overextended.

The GE acquisition is expected to add approximately 5% to the company’s net income in 2016.

These diverse operations are good news for investors. Some of BMO’s competitors are 100% exposed to Canada, a country with an expensive housing market and an economy that has depended on natural resources for much of its growth over the last decade. With the price of oil, natural gas, and other commodities continuing to be weak, it could spell bad news for banks that aren’t diversified outside Canada.

A safe dividend

Bank of Montreal has an official company policy of paying out dividends of between 40% and 50% of its net earnings. The current yield is 4.3%.

In 2016, analysts expect the company to earn $7.07 per share, putting shares at less than 11 times forward earnings. BMO currently pays a dividend of $0.84 per share each quarter, putting the projected payout for the year at $3.36 per share. That’s a payout ratio of 47%–easily within the target range.

Every few years a bank will have some bad loans come to the surface; BMO is no exception. It has the balance sheet to handle a few lean quarters. It has a solid Tier 1 capital ratio, and its reputation will help instill investor confidence during the next banking crisis. Hey, it worked during the 2008-09 Great Recession.

BMO currently has Canada’s longest dividend streak. I’m not sure it’ll last 187 more years, but if there was one company I’d bet on to continue such a streak, Bank of Montreal is it.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium service or advisor. We’re Motley! Questioning an investing thesis — even one of our own — helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer, so we sometimes publish articles that may not be in line with recommendations, rankings or other content.

Fool contributor Nelson Smith has no position in any stocks mentioned.

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