Brown-Forman (NYSE:BF.B) is a Dividend Aristocrat. That means it has increased its dividend payout annually for the past 25 years or more. Investing in reliable dividend stocks, such as those on the aristocrat list, is a rewarding way to unlock exceptional returns for years on end. You might not recognize the name Brown-Forman, but you probably know some of its brands, including Jack Daniel's and Southern Comfort whiskeys and Sonoma-Cutrer Wines. Brown-Forman manufacturers and sells a variety of top alcoholic beverages in a very lucrative global spirits industry. Let's look at Brown-Forman's underlying business to determine whether this is a dividend stock to buy today.
A winning portfolio
Brown-Forman distributes its products in more than 135 countries. This scale and a portfolio of leading brands lend Brown-Forman pricing power in many of the markets in which it operates. This helped Brown-Forman to generate sales of $3.9 billion in fiscal 2014. Moreover, with an operating margin north of 32%, the company does a great job of converting a large percentage of its revenue into profit. This is especially important for income investors, who want to be sure companies they buy stock in are capable of generating sufficient cash flow to fund dividends.
In addition to generating superior profits, Brown-Forman is an expert when it comes to rewarding shareholders. As you can see in the chart above, the booze giant far outpaces its closest rivals when it comes to total shareholder returns. In fact, the company returned over $2.5 billion to its investors between 2010 and 2014, with $988 million paid in quarterly cash dividends, $998 million in two special dividends, and $555 million in stock repurchases.
In fiscal 2014 alone, Brown-Forman returned $280 million to shareholders via dividends and share repurchases. That compares to $659 million in net income the company generated during that year. The company made enough cash to both reward shareholders and reinvest in its business. Brown-Forman also has boosted its dividend annually for the past 29 years running.
The company paid a total cash dividend of $1.09 per share in 2014, and the stock currently has a dividend yield of 1.57%. This is slightly below the S&P 500's average yield of 1.95%, but given Brown-Forman's strong earnings growth, we should see this increase over time.
Brown-Forman's dividend isn't the only thing with staying power. After all, this is a company that survived Prohibition during the 1920s by working out a special deal with the U.S. government to bottle whiskey for medicinal purposes.
With support from its strong balance sheet and its reasonable payout, Brown-Forman should continue raising its dividend for many years to come. However, that doesn't necessarily make it a smart place to put new money today. The stock is trading around 28 times earnings at $88 a share. Throw in a price-to-earnings-growth ratio of 3.02 that is above the industry average, and you have a stock that looks expensive. Ultimately, long-term investors can probably find more rewarding Dividend Aristocrat stocks to own today than Brown-Forman, despite the company's long-standing reputation for rewarding shareholders.