We're now in that long valley between earnings seasons. As a result, dividend declarations -- which many companies make around the same time they release quarterly results -- are tapering off. We should expect that trend to continue into the early summer.
Yet, thanks in no small part to many companies' improving results, a handful of enterprises raised their payouts last week. Here are three of the more notable hikes.
Williams Companies (NYSE:WMB)
This energy major has been a serial dividend-raiser for several years. True to form, it has lifted its quarterly distribution yet again, by 2% to $0.59 per share.
That wasn't one of the more generous increases in Williams' history, and it's no wonder: Q1 net profit was exactly half that of the same period the previous year at $70 million ($0.09 per share). That came as no big surprise, given the weakness in the oil price, but it was notably lower than analyst expectations of $0.13 per share.
The future looks a little brighter, though. The company has a backlog of about $30 billion in projects, which promises to help lift revenue and profitability substantially.
Further, earlier this month the firm acquired the master limited partnership it controls, Williams Partners. The move will save the combined company lots of scratch in incentive costs and tax obligations, among other expenses, making it easier to hit its aggressive target of 10% to 15% annual dividend growth until 2020.
The oil price doesn't look like it will recover significantly anytime soon, and the industry overall has struggled lately. But Williams investors have much to look forward to in terms of operations, and the consolidation was a smart move that could really boost the bottom line. Thus I think the firm's dividend will continue to grow.
Williams Companies' new dividend is to be paid on June 29 to shareholders of record as of June 12.
Northrop Grumman (NYSE:NOC)
Northrop Grumman's quarterly dividend increase is the largest among our three contenders this week: The aerospace giant lifted its payout 14% to $0.80 per share.
The raise came close on the heels of the company's Q1 results, which featured net profit down 19% year over year but still managed to handily beat analyst expectations. Sales ticked up by 2% to $6 billion.
International sales have increasingly contributed to Northrop Grumman's take in recent times. These climbed by 20% in fiscal 2014, and it looks as if the momentum will continue -- for instance, wealthy nations such as Japan and South Korea are shelling out for the firm's sophisticated military drones.
So growth is on the table, and the firm's free cash flow is high relative to its payout (although the former does tend to swing, sometimes violently, from quarter to quarter). It has now managed to lift that distribution annually for 12 years running, so I'd count on that streak continuing in the near-term future.
Northrop Grumman's upcoming payout will be dispensed on June 17 to shareholders of record as of June 1.
Investors in this data storage hardware and systems specialist are getting a few more coins with their next quarterly dividend: NetApp has pushed its payout 9% higher to $0.18 per share.
Unfortunately for those investors, that's about the only figure that's going up at the firm these days. NetApp's Q4 results showed notable year-over-year drops in net revenue (down 7% to $1.5 billion) and net profit (down 32% to $135 million). The declines were attributed to its new product, Clustered OnTAP, which existing customers have been hesitant to upgrade to.
NetApp has responded by enacting the latest in a history of job cuts (about 500 workers this time) and providing earnings guidance for Q1 that was well under the average analyst estimate.
So the company will have to do more with less -- i.e., provide what those clients want in Clustered OnTAP with reduced manpower. The cut in guidance, plus the lack of growth in both the top and bottom lines across the last few years, indicates that its prospects aren't great.
These developments don't bode well for the future of the dividend, even though NetApp was once able to cover both its dividend and several share repurchase programs with available free cash. The fundamentals don't look good at all, so I think the new payout may not be viable for too much longer.
Nevertheless, NetApp's new dividend is to be distributed on July 23 to stockholders of record as of July 10.