Imperial Tobacco: A FTSE 100 Dividend-Raising Star

LONDON -- In an outcome that's tough on investors, the FTSE 100 has failed to deliver a rising dividend payout over the last few years.

Just look at the iShares FTSE 100 ETF, for example. This is an exchange-traded fund that tracks the benchmark index, and we can see the aggregate payment from Britain's top 100 companies has yet to regain its pre-recession peak:

 

2007

2008

2009

2010

2011

Dividend per share

19.1 pence

20.2 pence

17.1 pence

16.2 pence

18.1 pence

But some companies within London's premier index have performed well on dividends, despite these austere times, and this series aims to seek them out. One such name is Imperial Tobacco Group (LSE: IMT  ) (NASDAQOTH: ITYBY  ) .

The big question is: Can the company's dividend continue to outperform its index? Let's take a closer look.

Imperial Tobacco Group is the fourth-largest tobacco company in the world. With the shares at 2,432 pence, the market cap is 23,975 million pounds. This table summarizes the firm's recent financial record:

Metric

2008

2009

2010

2011

2012

Revenue (millions of pounds)

20,528

26,517

28,173

29,223

28,574

Net cash from operations (millions of pounds)

1,700

3,569

2,859

2,556

2,119

Adjusted earnings per share

136.9 pence

161.8 pence

178.8 pence

188 pence

201 pence

Dividend per share

63.1 pence

73 pence

84.3 pence

95.1 pence

105.6 pence

All metrics are the year to September.

So, the dividend has increased by 67% during the last five years -- equivalent to a 13.7% compound annual growth rate.

Imperial Tobacco has stormed ahead since breaking from conglomerate Hanson in the late 1990s. Brands include Embassy, Regal, John Player Specials, Lambert & Butler and Castella cigars. Right now, the directors see significant growth opportunities in the company's Rest of the World region across Eastern Europe, Africa and the Middle East, and Asia-Pacific. Around 33% of revenue comes from that region with the Rest of Europe region delivering 23%; the U.K., 13%; Germany, 13%;  and the Americas and Spain, 7%. Overall, Imperial is active in around 160 countries.

The addictive nature of the firm's product keeps the cash flowing and that makes me optimistic on the prospects for the dividend.

Imperial Tobacco's dividend growth score
I analyze four different features of a company to judge whether its dividend can continue to rise:

1. Dividend cover: adjusted earnings covered last year's dividend almost twice. 3/5

2. Net cash or debt: net gearing around 150% with borrowings over eight times earnings. 1/5

3. Cash flow: good support for profits from cash flow: 4/5

4. Outlook and recent trading: good recent trading and a positive outlook. 5/5

Overall, I score Imperial 13 out of 20, which encourages me to believe the firm's dividend can continue to out-pace dividends from the FTSE 100.

Foolish summary
While debt seems high, the company has very strong cash flow, which makes interest payments easier to manage. Both recent trading and the outlook are encouraging.

Right now, the forecast full-year dividend is around 116 pence per share, which supports a possible income of about 4.8%. That looks quite attractive to me.

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