As part of my monitoring process, I review the list of dividend increases every week. This exercise helps me to monitor existing portfolio holdings, and to identify promising companies for further research.
I tend to focus my attention on companies with at least ten years of annual dividend increases. This activity helps me to focus on companies with a higher chance of delivering sustainable dividends, and lets me identify the companies with a long runway for future dividend increases.
I review each company, in order to determine if it can continue raising its dividends for the foreseeable future. I believe that rising earnings per share are the fuel behind future dividend increases.
I look at rising earnings per share, in conjunction with trends in the dividend payout ratio. A high payout ratio is generally a warning sign, unless the business model is highly predictable or earnings are growing faster than dividends. I generally prefer if earnings and dividends grow at roughly the same long-term rate. Sometimes there are changes, and reasons for why that’s not the case, especially if a company just recently started growing dividends from a low base.
I like to review trends in dividend growth too, and check if it is accelerating, decelerating or just keeping pace at a constant rate.
I also like to review the valuation in terms of P/E and yield. While these are viewed as old-fashioned today, I have found them to be useful yardsticks to follow, along with dividend growth, payout ratio and earnings growth. Valuation is part art, part science.
Over the past week, there were 15 companies that raised dividends that also have a ten year track record of annual dividend increases. The companies include:
This should be followed by reviewing the trends in dividend payout ratios, in order to check the health of dividend payments. A rising payout ratio over time shows that future dividend growth may be in jeopardy. There is a natural limit to dividends increasing if earnings are stagnant or if dividends grow faster than earnings.
Obtaining an understanding behind the company’s business is helpful, in order to determine how defensible the dividend will be during the next recession. Certain companies are more immune to any downside, while others follow very closely the rise and fall in the economic cycle.
Of course, valuation is important, but it is more art than science. P/E ratios are not created equal. A stock with a P/E of 10 may turn out to be more expensive than a stock with a P/E of 30, if the latter is growing earnings and the former isn’t. Plus, the low P/E stock may be in a cyclical industry whose earnings will decline during the next recession, increasing the odds of a dividend cut. The high P/E company may be in an industry where earnings are somewhat recession resistant, which means that the likelihood of dividend cuts during the next recession is lower.
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