Not all dividends are created equal. Here, we'll do a top-to-bottom analysis of a company to understand the quality of its dividend and see how that's changed over the past five years.

The company we're looking at today is Campbell Soup (NYSE: CPB), which yields 3.7%.

For more than 150 years,Campbell Soup has been the choice for millions of Americans. The company has a 60% market share in the U.S. wet-soup market, which translates into roughly 2 billion cans of soup every year. In recent times, strong competition from General Mills (NYSE: GIS), Kraft Foods (NYSE: KFT), and Heinz (NYSE: HNZ) has eaten into sales and weighed on margins.

Campbell Soup Company Total Return Price Chart

Campbell Soup Company Total Return Price Chart by YCharts

To evaluate the quality of a dividend, the first thing to consider is whether the company has paid a dividend consistently over the past five years, and, if so, how much has it grown.

Campbell Soup Company Dividend Chart

Campbell Soup Company Dividend Chart by YCharts

Campbell Soup's dividend has been steadily rising since 2008.

Immediate safety
To understand how safe a dividend is, we use three crucial tools, the first of which is:

  • The interest coverage ratio, or the number of times interest is earned, which is calculated by earnings before interest and taxes, divided by interest expense. The interest coverage ratio measures a company's ability to pay the interest on its debt. A ratio less than 1.5 is questionable; a number less than 1 means the company is not bringing in enough money to cover its interest expenses.

Campbell Soup Company Times Interest Earned (TTM) Chart

Campbell Soup Company Times Interest Earned (TTM) Chart by YCharts

Campbell Soup has roughly $10 in operating earnings for every dollar of operating expense.

The other tools we use to evaluate the safety of a dividend are:

  • The EPS payout ratio, or dividends per share divided by earnings per share. The EPS payout ratio measures the percentage of earnings that go toward paying the dividend. A ratio greater than 80% is worrisome.
  • The FCF payout ratio, or dividends per share divided by free cash flow per share. Earnings alone don't always paint a complete picture of a business's health. The FCF payout ratio measures the percent of free cash flow devoted toward paying the dividend. Again, a ratio greater than 80% could be a red flag.

Source: S&P Capital IQ.

Campbell Soup's payout ratio has been stable the past two years.

Another tool for better investing
Most investors don't keep tabs on their companies. That's a mistake. If you take the time to read past the headlines and crack a filing now and then, you're in a much better position to spot potential trouble early. We can help you keep tabs on your companies with My Watchlist, our free, personalized stock-tracking service.

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