Stock markets fell 4.4% yesterday, marking the third session in a row of losses. The declines haven’t erased the gains from last week’s bullish trading, but they put a damper on investors’ enthusiasm. There’s a feeling of gloom; President Trump has said that the country and economy are in for a hard two weeks in the first half of April as the coronavirus epidemic peaks in the States, and he walked back his previously stated hope to see the country ‘get back to work’ by mid-month. No one is certain what the near-term holds, except that times are hard.

It’s in times like these that investors, when they buy, start looking that much harder at dividend stocks. With share prices dropping, and interest rates cut to near zero, stock dividends are the surest form of asset returns available today – and those low share prices have brought down the initial cost of entry.

Investment bank Wells Fargo has been following the markets, and the bank’s stock analysts are coming to the plain conclusion: get into dividends now. In a series of reports released in February and March, the firm’s stock researchers outline some low-cost, high-return dividend stocks that investors need to consider – and also one that may be too risky to try. We’ve pulled the details from the TipRanks database, so let’s find out what makes these stock moves so compelling.

Oaktree Specialty Lending (OCSL)

We’ll start in the financial sector, appropriate when the financial world seems to be crumbling around us. But there is hope. Oaktree focuses on specialty finance, offering customized credit and loan solutions for companies that lack access to more traditional capital markets. The company generates its income through fees and interest on its loan products, which include first and second liens, unsecured loans, and preferred equity. With traditional markets staggering under the weight of the lockdowns and quarantines, Oaktree may find a wider field of action later this year.

Earlier this year, just before the coronavirus outbreak hit the US, Oaktree announced a capital drive of its own, raising $300 million in 3.5% notes, which will come due in 2025. The notes were used to reduce outstanding debt while lowering the rates, and providentially gave Oaktree a sound footing just as the market disruptions hit. Shortly afterward, OCSL reported Q1 fiscal 2020 earnings, showing $14.1 million in net income, or 10 cents per share. This was down from Q4, and missed the EPS forecast by 17%.

Income was enough to maintain the dividend, however, at 10 cents per quarter. The annual payment, 40 cents, gives the stock a yield of 11.8%, far higher than the 2% average dividend yield found on the broader markets. OCLS has a reliable dividend history, and adjusts the payment when needed to ensure that the company can afford the dividend.

Wells Fargo analyst Finian O’Shea wrote on the stock shortly before the earnings report, saying, “OCSL continues to exit legacy positions at par or greater, which likely improves its fundamentals every quarter that passes. While we still see the case for a discount because it chooses to under-earn, we are very positive on the stock at these levels.”

O’Shea stands by this opinion, giving the stock a Buy rating with a $6 price target indicating an upside potential of 86%. (To watch O’Shea’s track record, click here)

OCSL’s Moderate Buy analyst consensus rating is based on 2 recent reviews, both of which agree that the stock is a buy-side proposition. Shares are priced at a heavy discount, $3.10, and the $5.80 average price target suggests an 81% upside potential for the coming 12 months. (See Oaktree stock analysis on TipRanks)

TPG Specialty Lending (TSLX)

Next up is another specialty finance company, TPG. TPG’s customer base is middle market companies, and like Oaktree above, its corporate customers have limited access to the capital markets. TGP offers credit, financing, and funding solutions for complex business models. Underlining the importance of the niche, TSLX rose 27% in calendar year 2019.

The company had a good financial quarter to finish 2019, too. EPS beat expectations by 8.5%, coming in at 51 cents and at the top line, revenues were 3.6% over expectations, at $66.5 million. On a sour note, both numbers were down year-over-year. Despite that yoy drop, TSLX kept up its dividend – the company pays out 6 dividends annually, and has a history of adjusting those payments to ensure reliability. The current payment, due this month, is 25 cents per quarter.

Annualized, TSLX’s dividend comes out to $1.64, giving a yield of 12.4%. This is more than 6x higher than the average stock dividend. And it simply blows away Treasury bonds, which have dipped below 1% as the Fed has cut rates to the bone in an effort to ameliorate the financial damage of the current economic shutdowns.

Finian O’Shea, quoted above, reviewed this stock as well, and rated it as a clear Buying proposition. He put a $23.50 price target on the shares, implying an upside of nearly 80%. (To watch O’Shea’s track record, click here)

In his comments, O’Shea sees this stock as a conservative, defensive play. He wrote, “We’ll reiterate the view that the value-add provided though highly structured and idiosyncratic deals is still under-appreciated, and perhaps highlighted by TSLX’ best-in-class-peers now showing non-accruals. Moreover, we see that TSLX should receive a richer valuation for preserving a defensive and opportunistic financial position at this market stage.”

TPG has 5 Buy ratings and just 1 Hold, giving the stock a Strong Buy from the analyst consensus. The stock is selling for $13.15, and the average price target of $23.13 is indicative of a 76% upside potential for the coming year. (See TPG’s stock analysis at TipRanks)

Ventas, Inc. (VTR)

Last on our list is Ventas, which Wells Fargo says to steer clear of. This company is a real estate investment trust, focused on health care facility properties in the US, Canada, and the UK. The company holds a varied portfolio, including medical offices, nursing homes, acute and special care centers, surgical centers, and medical labs. The portfolio is valued at more than $25 billion.

You’d think that a company focused on health care properties would not be badly hurt in the current epidemic environment, but Ventas shares are down heavily in the current market downturn, having lost 61%. This comes despite the company edging over the estimates in its last quarterly report, when it showed 93 cents per share Funds from Operations and $996 million total revenue. Company management, however, is lowering its forward guidance, as it is not certain that tenants will be able to meet rent obligations as the economy comes to a halt. Health care facilities are working harder than ever – but their medical operations expenses are growing faster as they try to cope with the coronavirus, and those medical operations may be seen as a higher priority than rent. It is part of the spreading ripple of consequences the epidemic has set in motion.

VTR is maintaining its divided, as REIT’s are required by law to return earnings to shareholders. The current payment is 79.25 cents quarterly, or $3.17 annually. This makes the yield 13.8%, the highest of the stocks on this list. The question for investors is, Does this yield offset the likely future risk?

Todd Stender, covering the stock for Wells Fargo, says to Sell this stock, and he has lowered the price target from$56 to $29. He writes of the company, “The company did indicate that through February, its senior housing and company­wide results were in line with its previous expectations; however, mgmt. felt it was prudent at this point to remove 2020 guidance not knowing how long this situation may last. The company has also shifted focus to the balance sheet and is becoming a bit more defensive given the level of uncertainty by tapping $2.75B from its $3.0B line of credit for added liquidity and flexibility.”

Even though he rates the stock a Sell, Stender’s lower price target still suggests about 20% upside. This REIT may still bring a return, but as with the dividend yield, it’s not known if that return potential is enough to balance the likely near-term risks. (To watch Stender’s track record, click here)

This stock’s analyst consensus rating is a Hold, based on a single Buy against 4 Holds and 3 Sells. Shares are currently trading for $22.95, and the average price target of $42.57 suggests a premium of 80% from that trading level. (See Ventas stock analysis on TipRanks)

To find good ideas for dividend stocks trading at attractive valuations, visit TipRanks’ Best Stocks to Buy, a newly launched tool that unites all of TipRanks’ equity insights.

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