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.

Let's examine how Kimberly-Clark (NYSE: KMB) stacks up in four critical areas to determine whether it's a dividend dynamo or a disaster in the making.

1. Yield
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.

Kimberly-Clark yields 4.3% -- moderate and certainly not cause for alarm.

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.

Kimberly-Clark's payout ratio is a moderate 60%.

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.

Kimberly-Clark has a debt-to-equity ratio of 125% and an interest coverage ratio of 11 times.

4. Growth
A large dividend is nice; a large growing dividend is even better. To support a growing dividend, we also want to see earnings growth.

Let's examine how Kimberly-Clark stacks up next to its peers:


5-Year Earnings per Share Growth

5-Year Dividend per Share Growth




Procter & Gamble (NYSE: PG)



Colgate-Palmolive (NYSE: CL)



Clorox (NYSE: CLX)



Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's.

Over the past five years, Kimberly-Clark has grown about in line with its peers, at least on a per-share basis.

The Foolish bottom line
Kimberly-Clark exhibits a more-or-less clean dividend bill of health. It displays a moderate yield, payout ratio, leverage, and growth.

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