Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Dividend Payout Ratios

Most important question to ask on dividend paying stock: "Can the level of dividends be sustained?" Also, once you have a company, you need to focus also on its ability to pay their dividend rather than on the stock price. I have found that the value of my portfolio has fluctuated a lot, but my dividend income has not. In fact, my dividend income has only increased since I held a basket of dividend paying stock.

If you just concentrate on your portfolio value, it might drive you crazy and you might just sell when you should not. I have found that in recession, some companies cut or eliminate dividends, some keep them level and other increase them. Overall, my dividend income has still increased. So, what you should be looking at is cash flow. When you look at dividend cash flow, you have to look at it over a 3 month period to get Cycle 1 to 3 of dividend payments. Or, you can look at dividend cash flow over a 12 month period.

Of course, when a company I own cuts or eliminates dividends, I check on the long term viability of the company. You have to ask yourself if you should buy more, sell some or all or just hold on a stock on such a company.

I look at Dividend Payout Ratios based on earnings and on cash flow. If I see some problems I might investigate the company further. I know that some analysts look at DPR based on Funds from Operations (FFO) and Adjusted Funds from Operations (AFFO) and Free Cash Flow.

I look at such things sometimes on a short term basis and for REITS, but I do not like to do this on a long term basis for a company. When a company cannot provide a positive EPS higher than the dividend over the long term, it suggests to me that the company is mortgaged to the hilt and not a good long term buy. You should be aware that there are many analysts that seem to disagree with this.

Getting back to my main theme, it is all about whether or not a company can afford to pay their dividends. A company's ability to pay dividends will ultimately lead to higher stock prices over time.

The Investopedia site, is a good site to get some basic information and they concentrate on a DPR based on Earnings. See Investopedia. As I had already said, I look at DPR for both Earnings per Share (EPS) and Cash Flow. If I see problems, I look beyond this on an individual stock basis. Also, for REITs, I look at a DPR on Funds from Operations (FFO). (I used to also look at FFO for the old income trust companies.)

Dividend payout ratios vary widely among companies. Stable, large, mature companies (like TSX-BCE or TSX-TRP) tend to have larger dividend payouts. However, with a more growth-oriented company it will tend to keep their cash for expansion purposes, have modest payout ratios. This would be companies like Saputo (TSX-SAP). In fact a lot of consumer stocks have low payout ratios.

Also, dividends are paid with cash and not with earnings. This is why a lot of analysts check the dividend payments against things like Free Cash Flow. See Investopedia for a definition of Free Cash Flow per Share. Others check the dividends against Funds from Operations (FFO) or Adjusted Funds from Operations (AFFO). For a definition on FFO see Investopedia and also Investopedia for a definition of AFFO.

For an example of calculating FFO, see Investing Answers. This site also discusses the difference between FFO and AFFO. Some REITS pay as high as 90% of the FFO in distributions, but others keep the ratio lower (say 60%). If a REIT is paying 90% of the FFO, it is basically paying all its profits in distributions.

Analysts talk about DPR for Earnings at 60% and below and DPR for Free Cash Flow at 80% and below and 40% or lower for Cash Flow. However, now of this is written in stone, as different industries have different standards. You might want to compare any company with DRRS for similar companies. Note that the best companies have cash flows that are higher than earnings.

In the Investing Daily blog is an article on why you should use cash flow values in your DPR. See Investing Daily. There is a recent article in the G&M. This article talks about dividend sustainability and appropriate dividend payout ratios.

There are sorts of perspectives on this ratio and all sorts of blogs mentioning this ratio. See these articles by Million Dollar Journey, Dividend Money, The Market Capitalist and Dividend Ninja, Motley Fool.

On my other blog I am today writing about HNZ Group Inc. (TSX-HNZ.A, OTC-CDHPF)...continue...

This blog is meant for educational purposes only, and is not to provide investment advice. Before making any investment decision, you should always do your own research or consult an investment professional. See my site for an index to these blog entries and for stocks followed. Follow me on Twitter.

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