Editor's Note: A previous version of this article failed to mention B&G’s free cash flow and the most recent dividend raise. The article’s analysis has been updated to account for these facts. The Fool regrets these omissions.
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.
First and foremost, dividend investors like a large 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.
B&G Food yields 4.5% -- moderate but not particularly cause for concern.
2. Payout ratio
The payout ratio might be the most important metric for judging dividend sustainability. It compares the amount of money a company pays out in dividends to the amount it generates. 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.
B&G payout ratio is a moderate 71%. Its free cash flow payout ratio is a more modest 41%, largely due to changes in inventories and adjustments due to extinguishment of debt.
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.
Let's examine how B&G stacks up next to its peers:
Interest Coverage Ratio
Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's.
Like its peers, B&G's seems to carry a pretty high debt burden. It s interest coverage seems somewhat low, too.
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, B&G's earnings per share have grown 26% annually, while its dividend was recently raised back to approximately pre-economic downturn levels.
The Foolish bottom line
B&G exhibits a reasonable dividend bill of health. It has shown especially strong earnings growth, though leverage may be a cause for concern.
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Ilan Moscovitz doesn't own shares of any company mentioned. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Kellogg and McCormick. 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.