Dividend Growth Fertilizes an ETF Pick

Last week, Agrium (NYSE: AGU  ) quadrupled its semi-annual dividend payout. The new yield is only 0.7%, but a jump like that piqued this dividend investor's interest.

Agrium produces agricultural chemicals for retail and wholesale fertilizer and crop protection markets. In addition to the dividend hike, Agrium is investing $1.5 billion to increase its potash production capacity by 50%. The stock has been plowed under this year and is more than 30% off its 2011 highs. That beating has pushed the stock into value territory of less than seven times 2012 earnings estimates.

A cheap valuation is nice, but let's check growth estimates and see how Agrium stacks up to some peers.

Company

P/E
(2012 est.)

5-Year Growth Estimate

Agrium 6.9 4.0%
PotashCorp (NYSE: POT  ) 9.1 11.3%
CF Industries (NYSE: CF  ) 5.7 17.4%
Monsanto (NYSE: MON  ) 16.8 11.9%

Source: Yahoo! Finance.

This quick look shows Agrium trades in line with most of its peer group but trails significantly in estimated growth. At first blush, CF Industries appears to be the bargain in the bunch, but all of these stocks look like good candidates if demand for agricultural products stays strong.

Since all of these stocks require a strong agriculture industry, there's another good way to play for those who believe recent strong earnings will keep growing. An agriculture ETF gives investors exposure to a variety of companies covering the entire industry, not just fertilizers. Two candidates are PowerShares Global Agriculture and Market Vectors Agribusiness (NYSE: MOO  ) . Of the two, the Market Vectors fund gets the nod because of a lower expense ratio and better performance.

Agrium, Potash, CF, and Monsanto make up more than 20% of the Agribusiness ETF holdings. The average P/E is in line with the fertilizer companies and other holdings like Deere -- the fourth largest -- cultivate more fields in case fertilizers don't turn out to be the hottest part of the agriculture business. The fund also sports a four-star (out of five) rating in CAPS.

A quick review like this is just the starting point for further research, but I like Market Vectors Agribusiness well enough to make an outperform CAPScall on my scorecard and add it to My Watchlist.

Fool contributor Russ Krull does not own shares of any company or fund mentioned. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended creating a synthetic long position in Monsanto. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


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