Dividend payers deserve a berth in any long-term stock portfolio. But seemingly attractive dividend yields are not always as fetching as they may appear. Let's see which companies in the gas utilities industry offer the most promising dividends.
Yields and growth rates and payout ratios, oh my!
Before we get to those companies, though, you should understand just why you'd want to own dividend payers. These stocks can contribute a huge chunk of growth to your portfolio in good times, and bolster it during market downturns.
As my colleague Matt Koppenheffer has noted: "Between 2000 and 2009, the average dividend-adjusted return on stocks with market caps above $5 billion and a trailing yield of 2.5% or better was a whopping 114%. Compare that to a 19% drop for the S&P 500."
When hunting for promising dividend payers, unsophisticated investors will often just look for the highest yields they can find. While these stocks will indeed pay out the most, the yield figures apply only for the current year. Extremely steep dividend yields can be precarious, and even solid ones are vulnerable to dividend cuts.
When evaluating a company's attractiveness in terms of its dividend, it's important to examine at least three factors:
- The current yield
- The dividend growth
- The payout ratio
If a company has a middling dividend yield, but a history of increasing its payment substantially from year to year, it deserves extra consideration. A $3 dividend can become $7.80 in 10 years, if it grows at 10% annually. (It will top $20 after 20 years.) Thus, a 3% yield today may be more attractive than a 4% one, if the 3% company is rapidly increasing that dividend.
Next, consider the company's payout ratio, which reflects what percentage of income the company is spending on its dividend. In general, the lower the number, the better. A low payout ratio means there's plenty of room for generous dividend increases. It also means that much of the company's income remains in its hands, giving it a lot of flexibility. That money can fund the business's expansion, pay off debt, buy back shares, or even buy other companies. A steep payout ratio reflects little flexibility for the company, less room for dividend growth, and a stronger chance that if the company falls on hard times, it will have to reduce its dividend.
Peering into gas utilities
Among gas utilities, looking for high yields might lead you to grab Transportadora de Gas Del Sur S.A., as it seems to have a yield of... 52%! But a closer look shows that it paid an unusually high dividend last spring, with typical yields closer to 1%-2%. Niska Gas Storage Partners
Instead, let's focus on the dividend growth rate first, where National Grid
Energen and Southern Union, with dividend growth at 15% and 14%, respectively, are also appealing, but with yields of 1.1% and 1.4%, it will take a while for their payouts to reach compelling levels. ONEOK's (NTSE: OKE) growth rate of 11% may be less fetching, but its recent yield of 3% gives it a head start over the likes of Energen and Southern Union. The natural gas transportation and storage leader has a promising future, as demand for gas grows.
Some gas companies, such as Clean Energy Fuels
As I see it, Suburban Propane Partners
Of course, as with all stocks, you'll want to look into more than just a company's dividend situation before making a purchase decision. Still, these stocks' compelling dividends make them great places to start your search, particularly if you're excited by the prospects for this industry.
Do your portfolio a favor. Don't ignore the growth you can gain from powerful dividend payers.
Looking for some All-Star dividend-paying stocks? Look no further.