Dividend investing is a tried-and-true strategy for generating strong, steady returns in economies both good and bad. But as corporate America's slew of dividend cuts and suspensions over the past few years has demonstrated, it's not enough simply to buy a high yield. You also need to make sure those payouts are sustainable.
Let's examine how Corning (NYSE: GLW ) stacks up. In this series, we consider four critical factors investors should examine in every dividend stock. We'll then tie it all together to look at whether Corning is a dividend dynamo or a disaster in the making.
First and foremost, dividend investors like a large forward yield. But if a yield gets too high, it may reflect investors' doubts about the payout's sustainability. If investors had confidence in the stock, they'd be buying it, driving up the share price and shrinking the yield.
Corning yields 2.2%, a bit higher than the S&P 500's 1.9%.
2. Payout ratio
The payout ratio might be the most important metric for judging dividend sustainability. It compares the amount of money a company paid out in dividends last year to the earnings it generated. A ratio that's too high -- say, greater than 80% of earnings -- indicates that the company may be stretching to make payouts it can't afford, even when its dividend yield doesn't seem particularly high.
Corning has a modest payout ratio of 13%.
3. Balance sheet
The best dividend payers have the financial fortitude to fund growth and respond to whatever the economy and competitors throw at them. The interest coverage ratio indicates whether a company is having trouble meeting its interest payments -- any ratio less than five is a warning sign. Meanwhile, the debt-to-equity ratio is a good measure of a company's total debt burden.
Corning has a debt-to-equity ratio of just 11% and an interest coverage rate of 20 times.
A large dividend is nice; a large growing dividend is even better. To support a growing dividend, we also want to see earnings growth.
Over the past five years, Corning's earnings per share have grown at an average annual clip of 9%, but weak TV sales have led to earnings per share plunging 21% over the past year. Its quarterly dividend was reinstated in 2007 at $0.05 per share and raised last November to $0.075.
The Foolish bottom line
So is Corning a dividend dynamo? It could very well be. While dividend investors will certainly want to see the company improve its earnings after a difficult 2011, with a moderate yield, a tiny payout ratio, manageable debt, Corning should easily be able to fund -- or even continue growing -- its dividend. If you're looking for some other great dividend payers, I also suggest you check out "Secure Your Future With 9 Rock-Solid Dividend Stocks," a special report from the Motley Fool about some serious dividend dynamos. I invite you to grab a free copy to discover everything you need to know about these nine generous dividend payers -- simply click here.