3 Companies Just Boosted Dividends. Which Is the Best Bet?

It's beginning to look a lot like earnings season, and that has some companies upping their quarterly payouts.

Jan 22, 2014 at 2:21PM

Right before the holiday weekend, three very different companies took some dramatic action with their dividends, boosting their quarterly payout by more than 10%. This might look great on the surface to investors, but if a company's dividend spike isn't in line with its earnings or cash flow, that could present problems later. Here's a closer look at the finances of each business and which one might be the best pick for the would-be dividend investor.

Glass and metal engineering company Apogee delighted shareholders on Jan. 17 when it boosted its quarterly dividend amount by 11% to $0.10 per share. CEO Joseph Puishys said the increase was rooted in a confidence over Apogee's future, as well as positive momentum with growing revenue and earnings.

It looks like pumping up the dividend is perfectly in line with Apogee's recent performance as a company. Revenue for the last quarter was up 5% compared to the same time last year due to growth in Apogee's line of projects and awards. Because of good results within the architectural-glass and architectural-services segments, Apogee's net earnings were up 20% to $9.6 million. During the quarter, Apogee snatched up Canadian nonresidential window company Alumicor for $52 million. As a result, net cash at the end of the period was down 46% from Q4 2012 to $19.8 million.

Apogee currently has 28.9 million outstanding shares, which means that paying a dividend of $0.10 per quarterly unit will cost the company about $11.56 million. That's currently 58% of what the company reported in cash, which still leaves some room for future payout growth. Additionally, Apogee is no stranger to boosting its dividend within its means. Since 2008, the company has increased its annual amount spent on dividends by 26% from $8.1 million to $10.3 million. After just buying out a company and boosting its dividend, Apogee might not want to do anything crazy for a while, but it appears capable of generating the money to pull off these ambitions.

Schlumberger (NYSE:SLB)
This company might have a funny name, but it's serious about its quarterly payouts. A leading supplier of technology solutions to the oil and gas industry, Schlumberger lifted its quarterly dividend an impressive 28% on Jan. 16 to $0.40 per share. The news came just before the business announced very successful sales for both its fourth quarter and 2013 in general. Revenue for the quarter jumped 7.4% compared to Q4 of 2012, and annual sales rose 8.4%, from $41.7 billion to $45.2 billion.

Let's see whether a significant dividend hike is logically in this company's means. Since 2010, Schlumberger has raised the amount it pays in dividends by 54.6%, spending $1.6 billion in 2013. As of the end of the year, Schlumberger had 1.3 billion shares outstanding. Multiply that by $0.40 per share, and the company should expect to pay $2.08 billion next year in dividends.

Here's where some eyebrows might go up. Schlumberger currently has a significant amount of debt on its books: $4.4 billion as of the end of 2013, after a $1.07 billion share repurchase during Q4. While that number is down compared to the $5.1 billion in debt it had to its name in 2012, investors might want to be wary before diving into this dividend stock with gusto. Now that the company just agreed to pay an additional $400 million in dividends, its amount of debt in 2014 could still be pretty substantial.

Family Dollar (NYSE:FDO)
Discount retailer Family Dollar has made a name for itself through offering rock-bottom prices, but apparently it doesn't want the same for its dividend. The company just upped its quarterly dividend 19.2% to $0.31 per share, which yields 1.9%.

The dividend announcement coincided, as often happens, with the company's quarterly earnings call. The results here were pretty solid, with Family Dollar bringing in $2.49 billion -- a 3.2% increase from the same quarter a year ago. Of that revenue, $78 million went into net income and $29.9 million (or 33%) of the resulting earnings was delivered to shareholders as a dividend.

Family Dollar has 114.5 million shares outstanding, and if that number were to stay exactly the same, the company would pay $35.4 million in dividends next quarter. At the end of the last quarter, Family Dollar had $170.4 million to its name in cash and cash equivalents, and $35.4 million would only take up 20% of that amount. The business seems to be sailing pretty smoothly, and boosting its dividend seems like a rational way to thank its investors for sticking around.

Which is the best?
All three of these companies just accomplished something impressive, but for investors looking to get into a dividend stock that still has room to grow, consider Family Dollar. Apogee, by comparison, has been busy acquiring companies and boosting dividends while its cash takes a hit. And Schlumberger is attempting to work out its debt situation while increasing what it pays out to shareholders. Family Dollar could boost its already solid payout in the future and do so practically. It's one thing for a business to throw money at its investors, but doing so while keeping a level head about its financial structure is crucial when looking for a good dividend stock.

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Fool contributor Caroline Bennett has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. 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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