Dividend investing is a tried-and-true strategy for generating strong, steady returns in economies both good and bad. But as corporate America's slew of dividend cuts and suspensions over the past few years has demonstrated, it's not enough simply to buy a high yield. You also need to make sure those payouts are sustainable.
First and foremost, dividend investors like a large forward yield. But if a yield gets too high, it may reflect investors' doubts about the payout's sustainability. If investors had confidence in the stock, they'd be buying it, driving up the share price and shrinking the yield.
IDT yields 4.2%, considerably higher than the S&P's 1.9%.
2. Payout ratio
The payout ratio might be the most important metric for judging dividend sustainability. It compares the amount of money a company paid out in dividends last year to the earnings it generated. A ratio that's too high -- say, greater than 80% of earnings -- indicates that the company may be stretching to make payouts it can't afford, even when its dividend yield doesn't seem particularly high.
IDT's payout ratio is a modest 29%.
3. Balance sheet
The best dividend payers have the financial fortitude to fund growth and respond to whatever the economy and competitors throw at them. The interest coverage ratio indicates whether a company is having trouble meeting its interest payments -- any ratio less than 5 is a warning sign. Meanwhile, the debt-to-equity ratio is a good measure of a company's total debt burden.
Let's examine how IDT stacks up next to its peers:
Leucadia National (NYS: LUK)
Windstream (NYS: WIN)
PPL (NYS: PPL)
Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's.
IDT carries relatively little debt.
A large dividend is nice; a large growing dividend is even better. To support a growing dividend, we also want to see earnings growth.
Unfortunately, IDT doesn't have much of a growth history because it has had a tendency to produce both net income and free cash flow losses over the past several years.
The Foolish bottom line
IDT exhibits a reasonable dividend bill of health. It has a moderate yield, a modest payout ratio, and limited debt. Given the company's loss-making history, however, dividend investors will want to keep an eye on the company's operations to ensure that it's able to consistently turn out future profits.
At the time thisarticle was published Ilan Moscovitzdoesn't own shares of any companies mentioned. You can follow him on Twitter @TMFDada. Try any of our Foolish newsletter servicesfree for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe thatconsidering a diverse range of insightsmakes us better investors. The Motley Fool has adisclosure policy.
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