The consumer-products business has generally been a good place to find healthy dividends, and food giant General Mills (NYSE:GIS) and its 3.1% yield has the track record to make many dividend investors happy with its prospects. Yet even once a company has put together a history of treating its shareholders well, you still have to keep your eyes on its future prospects to make sure it will continue to bring in the income it needs to finance its quarterly payouts. To look more closely at whether the stock still makes the grade for those who want consistent and dependable income from their portfolios, let's take a closer look at two things every dividend investor should know about General Mills.
1. General Mills just cut its guidance on growth.
One of the secrets to a successful dividend stock is that it has an underlying business that can produce regular increases to its revenue and earnings. Unfortunately, General Mills has faced some challenges lately, and just last Friday morning, the company gave investors a sense of just how tough the current environment is right now.
General Mills cited weak trends in the U.S. food industry as well as slower growth in emerging markets in deciding to cut back on its guidance for growth in sales and earnings for the current 2015 fiscal year. Before the cut, General Mills had thought that net sales would climb by a mid-single-digit percentage for the fiscal year after adjusting for currency fluctuations, with adjusted earnings per share posting gains in the high single-digit percentage range. Now, though, General Mills believes that revenue overall will climb in the low single-digits, while segment operating profits will actually fall and earnings per share will only manage low-single-digit percentage increases as well.
In order to boost its efficiency, General Mills has worked hard on cost-savings initiatives to improve its bottom-line performance. Unfortunately, those projects will take a long time to generate the actual savings investors want to see, with General Mills expecting only $40 million or so in cost savings in the current fiscal year. In fiscal 2016, though, the savings should climb to $260 million to $280 million on a cumulative basis, and General Mills hopes for continued acceleration in years further into the future.
Nevertheless, General Mills will have to work hard to reawaken its growth, even if it does manage to cut costs and become more efficient operationally. Otherwise, the fundamental strength that has supported its dividend growth could disappear and make future increases less likely.
2. General Mills' acquisition of Annie's could be the wildcard it needs.
Earlier this year, General Mills spent $820 million to acquire natural foods specialist Annie's. The buyout gave General Mills not only the opportunity to boost its revenue and net income but also gave it more status in the key organic and natural foods segment. As U.S. shoppers have become more discerning in their tastes, brands like Annie's have gained in popularity, and recent positive results from specialty grocery chain Whole Foods Market (NASDAQ: WFM) confirm the staying power of the healthy-foods trend.
In particular, General Mills has the ability to combine the rise in demand for natural foods with the ongoing wish for convenience. From ready-to-eat cereal and portable yogurt to frozen breakfast products, one of General Mills' key focus areas has been to give its consumers more ways to eat its products on the go. Even as more mature parts of the business see growth slow down, General Mills' efforts to remain innovative could keep reaping premium prices from customers. If General Mills can leverage the power of the Annie's brand to demonstrate that it can make even healthy food convenient, then the acquisition could end up paying dividends for years to come.
General Mills has plenty going for it, and dividend investors are justified in believing that they should expect continued lucrative payouts well into the future. Yet smart shareholders need to keep an eye on General Mills and its efforts to make sure that the company can keep generating the rising revenue and earnings it needs to treat shareholders well in the long run.
John Mackey, co-CEO of Whole Foods Market, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Dan Caplinger owns shares of Whole Foods Market. The Motley Fool recommends Whole Foods Market. The Motley Fool owns shares of Whole Foods Market. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.