Procter & Gamble (NYSE:PG) has been rewarding its shareholders with dividends and share repurchases for the past 124 years. The consumer products maker has also increased its dividend every year for the past 58 consecutive years, thus earning it top marks as a dividend aristocrat. However, Procter & Gamble's stock is only up 6% in the past year, because the conglomerate has suffered from weak growth in a handful of product categories recently. For comparison, industry rivals including Kimberly-Clark and Clorox are both up more than 11% over the same period.
Given P&G's recent weakness, let's take a closer look at the underlying fundamentals of its business to uncover whether the company's dividend is a safe bet going forward.
Putting shareholders first
Procter & Gamble's stock currently has a dividend yield of 2.93%, which is significantly better than the S&P 500 that yields 1.9% today. Moreover, staying true to the company's rich history of dividend hikes, P&G increased its dividend 7% to $2.45 per share in fiscal 2014. The conglomerate also returned $6.9 billion to shareholders through dividend payments during that period. And things get even sweeter when you factor in the additional $6 billion that management spent in share repurchases. For those keeping score at home, this amounts to a total shareholder return of $12.9 billion in fiscal 2014.
This is undoubtedly impressive. However, as income investors we always want to know how said company is funding its payouts. A closer look at P&G's books reveals the company financed these buybacks with both operating cash flows and through long-term and short-term debt. The company had $35 billion in debt on its books as of June 30.
That may seem like a heavy debt load at first. However, Procter & Gamble is equally as good at generating cash as it is doling it out to shareholders. The company's operating cash flow was $14 billion in fiscal 2014, a 6% decline from the prior year, but impressive nonetheless. Not to mention, P&G's operating profits are roughly 20 times greater than interest payments therefore the company shouldn't have any problem meeting its debt obligations.
Why is this important?
When it comes to uncovering winning dividend stocks, the trick is to invest in companies that can afford to increase their dividends for many years on end. Applying this approach to P&G shows us that the company should be able to continue rewarding shareholders well into the future. Not only is Procter & Gamble one of the top global consumer products companies today, but it also generates more than $80 billion in sales each year.
The company's dividend also looks safe thanks to its sustainable payout ratio of 65%. This metric is important because it tells investors how much of the company's net income is being given back to shareholders in the form of dividends and share buybacks. At 65%, that means P&G should have enough cash left over to reinvest in the business.
Together, these things tell us that Procter & Gamble's dividend is safe. However, investors may want to wait for a pullback in the stock price before jumping in. Shares of the consumer products giant are trading near the stock's 52-week high at around $88 a pop today. Moreover, shares are currently trading at more than 24 times earnings or slightly above the industry average -- thus signaling that the stock is a bit pricey at current levels.
Tamara Rutter has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Procter & Gamble. 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.