Not all dividends are created equal. Here, we'll do a top-to-bottom analysis of a given company to understand the quality of its dividend and how that's changed over the past five years.
The company we're looking at today is Alcoa
Alcoa is a producer of aluminum. The company's stock was crushed by the recession and has only slowly started to come back. As a bellwether for the economy, Alcoa's doldrums don't bode well for the economy. However, longer term, things are looking up as Alcoa expects a doubling in demand for aluminum by 2020.
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 it has grown.
Alcoa's dividend was cut in 2009 to $0.03 per quarter, where it has remained since.
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.
Alcoa covers every $1 in interest expense with more than $4 in operating earnings.
The other tool we use to evaluate the safety of a dividend is:
- 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.
Source: S&P Capital IQ.
Alcoa's payout ratio has always been low, but during the recession, Alcoa's earnings turned negative. In the past two years, Alcoa returned to profitability, and its payout ratio has remained low.
Source: S&P Capital IQ.
There are some alternatives in the industry that make higher payouts. Nucor
Another tool for better investing
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