When determining if a company qualifies as a great dividend stock, I ask myself some basic questions. One, has the company paid dividends over time? Two, has it been able to regularly raise payments? And lastly, does it have the wherewithal to continue doing so?
Disney (DIS 0.33%) suspended dividends during the early days of the pandemic in May 2020 and hasn't brought them back. While that decision was understandable at the time in light of the uncertainty created on its theme parks and other businesses, it's a good time to see if Disney can achieve dividend greatness again.
Disney's empire spans valuable properties, including networks like ABC, the Disney Channel, and ESPN; streaming services like Disney+; movie studios; and theme parks.
As a testament to the combined strength of its businesses, Disney's fiscal first-half revenue (ended April 2) grew by 29% to $41.1 billion. In a sign of how quickly the company rebounded from last year, when results were hurt after the onset of COVID-19, adjusted diluted earnings per share nearly doubled to $2.14 over the same time period.
Disney's prospects look good, too. It's getting set to release a popular movie sequel, and other trends like park spending have been improving. Its streaming business continues to do well too. In the second quarter, paid subscribers at Disney+ increased by 33% year over year to 137.7 million. This comes at a time of more intense competition. For instance, in its latest quarter, Netflix lost nearly 1 million subscribers on top of the 200,000 net subtractions in the prior quarter.
When considering Disney's free cash flow (FCF), it's best to look at the full year since it eliminates seasonality. Last year, despite the stay-at-home orders and shutdowns hurting business, the company generated about $2 billion of FCF, down from $3.6 billion.
Dividend resumption (eventually)
Before the board of directors halted dividends in 2020, Disney made semi-annual payments. It also had a history of regularly increasing the amount. In 2012, it paid $0.75 a year, increasing the amount to $1.76 before stopping payouts.
Disney previously stated, "Longer term, we anticipate dividends will remain a part of our capital allocation strategy." However, it doesn't anticipate restarting payment until "we return to a more normalized environment."
The company has good attributes that investors will undoubtedly find attractive. These include fantastic properties that have driven sales and earnings growth. But without a fixed date or a promise of a near-term return of payments, income-seeking investors should look to other companies to find great dividend stocks.
Investors seeking top dividend stocks can start with Dividend Aristocrats, members of the S&P 500 that have raised dividends for at least 25 straight years. If you want to winnow it down further, you can look at Dividend Kings, an even more elite group. These are companies in the S&P 500 that have increased payments for at least half a century.