One of the many reasons to own Wells Fargo (NYSE:WFC) stock is its generous and consistently increasing dividend. The charts below capture this quality from three different perspectives.
The first chart shows the history of Wells Fargo's quarterly dividend per share:
Wells Fargo has consistently increased its dividend over the past quarter century. The one exception was the financial crisis, when all but a few big banks slashed their quarterly distributions to help offset elevated loan losses or, in Well Fargo's case, its 2008 acquisition of Wachovia. But even after factoring this cut into the equation, Wells Fargo's quarterly distribution is now higher than it was before the crisis.
The second chart illustrates Wells Fargo's payout ratio -- i.e., the percentage of net income it distributed to shareholders in 2014:
Most banks strive to pay out a third of their earnings to shareholders by way of dividends, leaving the remaining two-thirds to be split roughly evenly between retained earnings and share buybacks. In 2014, Wells Fargo nearly hit this mark on the head, paying out 32% of its earnings to holders of its common stock. Over the last 12 months, it's paid out even more, roughly 37% according to YCharts.com. But instead of interpreting this as a negative, I see it as evidence of Wells Fargo's commitment to shareholder-friendly capital allocation.
Finally, the third chart compares Wells Fargo's dividend yield -- its annual payout divided by its share price -- to its competitors:
Compared to its share price, the California-based bank's stock generates more income than other major banks with the exception of U.S. Bancorp. And this is despite the fact that Wells Fargo's stock trades for a considerable premium compared to the average bank. Right now, for example, its shares trade for 1.59 times book value. Meanwhile, Bank of America and Citigroup both trade for double-digit discounts to their book values.
In sum, if you're on the hunt for a great bank stock to serve as an anchor in your portfolio, then you could do a lot worse than Wells Fargo. Not only does it provide consistent and dependable earnings growth, but its management is also committed to making sure shareholders, by way of dividends, tangibly benefit from its success.