Could Standard Life plc, Prudential plc, Legal & General group plc and Aviva plc be the best dividend stocks around?

Trying to find the perfect dividend stock that you can buy and forget about while picking up a quarterly dividend cheque, can be a tough and time-consuming process. Just buying the companies with the highest dividend yield on the market won’t cut it. You need to be sure that the dividend in question is sustainable, and the company’s earnings are growing at a steady enough rate to both maintain and increase the payout at a steady rate for the foreseeable future.

Another fact you should also consider when buying dividend stocks is whether or not the company is prioritising the dividend over its core business. If the company in question has taken this path, there’s a chance it could be chronically under-investing in the business, and this is bad for long-term dividend sustainability and growth.

The best dividends 

The best dividends come from companies that have a proven business model, competitive advantage and recurring revenues from existing customers.

The pensions and savings industry meets two of these three key criteria. The industry has a proven business model, which is unlikely to be made redundant any time soon, and the industry’s largest players have a competitive advantage over smaller peers because of their size, economies of scale and reputation.

What’s more, managing pensions and savings is a very long-term business and it’s extremely unlikely any pension manager will see revenues drop to zero overnight.

These traits make the UK’s four largest pensions and savings managers look extremely attractive for long-term investors. Indeed, Standard Life (LSE: SL), Prudential (LSE: PRU), Legal & General (LSE: LGEN) and Aviva (LSE: AV) have all been operating for more than a century, and it’s unlikely these pension and savings giants will go out of business anytime soon.

Low valuations 

Due to concerns about the general health of the global economy, and concerns about the effect negative interest rates will have on the outlook for these pension managers, Standard Life, Prudential, Legal & General and Aviva have all underperformed the wider market this year. But long-term investors should be looking to take advantage of recent declines.

For example, shares in Standard Life are down by 16.8% year-to-date excluding dividends. However, after recent declines the shares support a dividend yield of 5.6% and trade at a forward P/E of 12.2. City analysts expect the company’s earnings per share to grow by 11% next year. Meanwhile, Prudential’s shares currently trade at a forward P/E of 11.4 compared to the five-year average of 12.8. The shares currently support a dividend yield of 3%.

Legal & General is one of the largest pension managers in the world, managing around half a trillion pounds in assets, making the group an extremely attractive long-term investment. Shares in the company currently trade at a forward P/E of 11.4 and support a dividend yield of 5.8%.

And lastly, shares in Aviva have underperformed the FTSE 100 by 15.5% so far this year, excluding dividends, although after recent declines the shares currently trade at an extremely attractive forward P/E of 8.8 and are set to yield 5.4% this year.

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Rupert Hargreaves owns shares of Prudential and Standard Life. The Motley Fool UK has no position in any of the shares mentioned. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.