4 Free Cash Flow Kings That Really Look After Their Shareholders

Philip Morris, Pfizer, McDonald's, and Johnson & Johnson have the best cash flows in their respective businesses.

Jan 14, 2014 at 1:44PM

In business, cash is king and the companies with the best cash flows are often the ones that are able to achieve the best returns for their investors. Unsurprisingly, the list of the most cash-generative companies in the world is dominated by big tobacco and big pharma.

In particular, the list is topped by Philip Morris International (NYSE:PM), followed closely by Pfizer (NYSE:PFE) and Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ). McDonald's (NYSE:MCD) also sits in the top 10. All of these companies convert more than 15% of their sales into free cash flow; an impressive metric.

Why is this important?
According to Investopedia, free cash flow as a percentage of sales can indicate the "real" amount of cash that the company earns. Indeed, free cash flow is a metric that is much harder to distort with accounting gimmicks and window dressing, methods that are often used to manipulate earnings. In the simplest possible terms, the free cash flow as a percentage of revenue figure is a measure of how much of a company's revenue is transformed into cash.

Revealing figures
So, what percentage of revenue do these industry behemoths listed above convert into free cash flow? Well, Philip Morris, as previously mentioned, tops the list. In the period between 2008 and the third quarter of 2013, the company converted 29.1% of its revenue into free cash flow. During the same period, Pfizer converted 26.4% of its revenue into free cash flow. Johnson & Johnson converted 20.2% of revenue into free cash flow, and McDonald's converted 16%.

It's easy to see how these impressive free cash flow metrics impact shareholders. Indeed, during the five-year period of 2008 to Nov. 15, 2013, McDonald's increased its dividend payout to investors by 116%. Meanwhile, Philip Morris increased its payout 104.3%, and Johnson & Johnson increased its payout 43.5%. All of these payout increases were far above inflation, which is usually considered the benchmark for dividend growth.

Unfortunately, during this period, according to my data, Pfizer's payout dropped by 25%, but the company has ramped up share repurchases to compensate. In particular, since the end of 2010, Pfizer has returned $44.4 billion to investors through both buybacks and dividends; that's approximately 150% of free cash flow after dividends.

Of course, all these numbers, although impressive, do not reveal the true story. What investors like me and you really want to know is how much money do we get, and will it continue?

Show me the money
To find out how much cash is actually returned to investors, I'm going to crunch the numbers for the last four quarters of available date to try and figure out how much cash is being returned to investors as a percentage of the share price; and secondly, how well these returns are covered by cash flow to establish whether or not they can continue.



Philip Morris


Johnson & Johnson











Total returned





Cash generated from operations





Dollar value retuned per share





Figures taken over a trailing-12-month period from the third quarter of 2012 to Q3 2013. Source: Marketwatch.com. Figures in billions except per-share amounts. Figures rounded to the nearest billion.

So, for the figures above we can see that McDonald's returned a total of $4 billion to investors during the last four quarters, easily covered by the company's $7.3 billion in cash generated from operations. The same is true for Johnson & Johnson. However, both Pfizer and Philip Morris have returned, in aggregate, $2 billion more to investors over the last four quarters than they have generated from operations.

Foolish summary
So all in all, not only is cash conversion as a percentage of revenue an important metric to asses business profitability, but it is also helpful in determining how much cash investors will receive from the business.

Philip Morris, Johnson & Johnson, McDonald's, and Pfizer are all cash flow kings with some of the best cash-conversion ratios in the business. Each of these four companies generates healthy free cash flow, most of which is returned to investors, and it would appear that this is set to continue.

Looking for other great dividend stocks?
One of the dirty secrets that few finance professionals will openly admit is the fact that dividend stocks as a group handily outperform their non-dividend paying brethren. The reasons for this are too numerous to list here, but you can rest assured that it’s true. However, knowing this is only half the battle. The other half is identifying which dividend stocks in particular are the best. With this in mind, our top analysts put together a free list of nine high-yielding stocks that should be in every income investor’s portfolio. To learn the identity of these stocks instantly and for free, all you have to do is click here now.


Fool contributor Rupert Hargreaves has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Johnson & Johnson and McDonald's. The Motley Fool owns shares of Johnson & Johnson, McDonald's, and Philip Morris International. 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.

4 in 5 Americans Are Ignoring Buffett's Warning

Don't be one of them.

Jun 12, 2015 at 5:01PM

Admitting fear is difficult.

So you can imagine how shocked I was to find out Warren Buffett recently told a select number of investors about the cutting-edge technology that's keeping him awake at night.

This past May, The Motley Fool sent 8 of its best stock analysts to Omaha, Nebraska to attend the Berkshire Hathaway annual shareholder meeting. CEO Warren Buffett and Vice Chairman Charlie Munger fielded questions for nearly 6 hours.
The catch was: Attendees weren't allowed to record any of it. No audio. No video. 

Our team of analysts wrote down every single word Buffett and Munger uttered. Over 16,000 words. But only two words stood out to me as I read the detailed transcript of the event: "Real threat."

That's how Buffett responded when asked about this emerging market that is already expected to be worth more than $2 trillion in the U.S. alone. Google has already put some of its best engineers behind the technology powering this trend. 

The amazing thing is, while Buffett may be nervous, the rest of us can invest in this new industry BEFORE the old money realizes what hit them.

KPMG advises we're "on the cusp of revolutionary change" coming much "sooner than you think."

Even one legendary MIT professor had to recant his position that the technology was "beyond the capability of computer science." (He recently confessed to The Wall Street Journal that he's now a believer and amazed "how quickly this technology caught on.")

Yet according to one J.D. Power and Associates survey, only 1 in 5 Americans are even interested in this technology, much less ready to invest in it. Needless to say, you haven't missed your window of opportunity. 

Think about how many amazing technologies you've watched soar to new heights while you kick yourself thinking, "I knew about that technology before everyone was talking about it, but I just sat on my hands." 

Don't let that happen again. This time, it should be your family telling you, "I can't believe you knew about and invested in that technology so early on."

That's why I hope you take just a few minutes to access the exclusive research our team of analysts has put together on this industry and the one stock positioned to capitalize on this major shift.

Click here to learn about this incredible technology before Buffett stops being scared and starts buying!

David Hanson owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway and American Express. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway, Google, and Coca-Cola.We Fools don't 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.

©1995-2014 The Motley Fool. All rights reserved. | Privacy/Legal Information