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 Consolidated Edison
Consolidated Edison is an electric utility. When the electricity market went through deregulation, utilities had to choose between being distributors or producers. ConEd's electricity is sold in a largely regulated market. Since the company is largely regulated, the stock is stable like the average utility company.
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.
Consolidated Edison's dividend has risen steadily over the past five years to $0.60 per quarter in 2011.
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.
Consolidated Edison covers every $1 in interest expense with nearly $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.
Consolidated Edison's payout ratio spiked to just under 100% in the middle of the recession, but it has been coming down since and now rests at 64%.
Source: S&P Capital IQ.
There are some alternatives in the industry. Otter Tail
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