Not all dividends are created equal. Here, we'll do a top-to-bottom analysis of a 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 Altria
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 has it grown.
Altria has consistently raised its dividend every year the past three years. The dividend now sits at $0.41 per quarter.
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.
Altria covers every $1 in interest expense with $5 in operating earnings.
The other tools we use to evaluate the safety of a dividend are:
- 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.
- The FCF payout ratio, or dividends per share divided by free cash flow per share. Earnings alone don't always paint a complete picture of a business's health. The FCF payout ratio measures the percentage of free cash flow devoted to paying the dividend. Again, a ratio greater than 80% could be a red flag.
Source: S&P Capital IQ.
Altria's payout ratios have slowly been rising and now sit at a worrisome level above 80%. Investors should carefully watch this number.
Another tool for better investing
Most investors don't keep tabs on their companies. That's a mistake. If you take the time to read past the headlines and crack a filing now and then, you're in a much better position to spot potential trouble early. We can help you keep tabs on your companies with My Watchlist, our free, personalized stock-tracking service.
- Add Altria to My Watchlist.
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