In a world of falling and even negative interest rates, investors are searching high and low for yield.
Companies with high and stable dividends are a good place to look, but there are some traps investors can fall into when sorting through these names. In volatile market conditions or an economic downturn, it's hard for companies to sustain a high dividend with unstable cash flow and a high credit risk.
CNBC used S&P Capital IQ to screen for stocks with high and growing dividends, along with a sound balance sheet according to Standard and Poor's. The list of stocks give investors a higher yield than the SPDR S&P 500 ETF (1.85%) and the yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury (1.486%).
The screening sorted companies with a dividend yield above 2%, an S&P credit rating of "A" or higher and 10% or more annual dividend growth over the past five years.
Simon Property Group, the largest shopping mall operator in the U.S., has the highest dividend yield on the list at 5.6% and a solid credit rating. Investors have piled into real estate stocks like Simon because of their higher dividends and steady cash flow. The S&P 500 real estate sector is the best-performing category this year, up nearly 30% since January.
Home Depot is another notable name on the list with a 2.4% dividend yield. In addition to real estate stocks, home improvement names also perform well in low rate environments. When yields drop, mortgage rates also go down and people will refinance their mortgages. The extra monthly savings from mortgage payments often go to home improvement projects, which boosts foot traffic at places like Home Depot, who's stock got a lift last month from its better-than-expected second quarter profit.
Falling interest rates do not seem to be reversing course anytime soon, as the Federal Reserve is expected to continue lowering rates this year to combat an economic slowdown. Former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan said it won't be long before the U.S. gets sucked into the global trend of negative interest rates.
"You're seeing it pretty much throughout the world. It's only a matter of time before it's more in the United States," Greenspan told CNBC's "Squawk on the Street" on Wednesday.
Investors will need to find income from somewhere.
To be sure, the stocks on the list are vulnerable to big price depreciation that could wipe out the dividend income gain in the event of a deep recession or big market pullback.
Still, given their solid balance sheet and track record of dividend increases, they could fare better than most in an market sell-off.