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HSBC Holdings plc vs National Grid plc vs Diageo plc: which is the better FTSE 100 income stock?

Today I’m discussing the dividend outlook for three FTSE 100 (INDEXFTSE: UKX) leviathans.

Bank bashed

Without doubt the outlook has become a lot rockier at HSBC (LSE: HSBA) in recent months.

The bank is still battling severe revenues pressure in its Asian marketplaces as economic cooling bites. HSBC’s profits from these regions — responsible for three-quarters of the group total — tanked 24% during the first half, to $7.2bn.

Britain’s decision to leave the EU has dumped further pressure on HSBC’s income prospects, particularly if the result leads to contagion across the global economy and keeps interest rates in the bank’s core territories around record lows.

Despite these worries, the City expects HSBC to maintain the dividend around 51 US cents per share in 2016, creating a stunning 7% yield.

But I believe investors shouldn’t bet the house on this figure being met. European Banking Authority Stress tests put the bank’s CET1 ratio at just 8.8% under ‘adverse’ economic conditions, a precarious figure given the steady stream of patchy economic data coming in from all regions.

And with misconduct charges likely to keep HSBC’s balance sheet under pressure, I reckon dividend forecasts for the near term and beyond could disappoint.

Toast titanic returns

Spirits seller Diageo (LSE: DGE) may not boast the same market-bashing dividend yields of HSBC.

Indeed, the number crunchers expect a reward of 62.6p per share in the 12 months to June 2017, up from 59.2p last year but yielding just 2.9%. This is some way below the FTSE 100 historical average of 3.5%.

Still, those seeking reliable dividend can’t look past Diageo, in my opinion. Dividend cover for 2017 stands at a chunky 1.6 times, while falling capital expenditure is giving free cash flow a boot in the right direction.

Massive investment in hot labels like Smirnoff vodka and Johnnie Walker whisky has put the fire back into Diageo’s top line, and volumes and organic revenues moved 1.3% and 2.8% higher during fiscal 2017.

And Diageo’s successful product innovation programme — combined with its ambitious acquisition strategy — should keep earnings moving steadily higher in 2017 and beyond, in my opinion, a terrific omen for future dividend growth.

A powerful payout star

But for investors seeking the perfect combination of high yields and terrific safety, I reckon National Grid (LSE: NG) is hard to beat.

Electricity is an essential commodity regardless of the broader economic climate, and National Grid’s position as sole network operator in Britain consequently gives it brilliant earnings visibility. On top of this, the company’s plan to expand its asset base by 5%-7% per annum should drive earnings and dividends still higher in the years ahead, I believe.

This view is shared by the City, and National Grid is expected to raise the dividend again in the period to March 2017, to 44.4p per share, creating a jumbo yield of 4.1%.

While dividend cover may stand at 1.4 times — some way below the ‘cast-iron’ safety benchmark of 2 times — I believe National Grid’s unrivalled defensive qualities make it a stress-free dividend selection.

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Royston Wild has no position in any shares mentioned. The Motley Fool UK has recommended Diageo and HSBC Holdings. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.