As a dividend investor, it pays to follow how much of a company's money goes toward funding its dividend. A nice yield now won't matter much if the company can't keep making those payments going forward.
Here, we'll highlight a given company and its closest competitors to see just how safe their dividends are, with a little help from three crucial tools:
The interest coverage ratio, or earnings before interest and taxes, divided by interest expense. The interest coverage ratio measures a company's ability to pay the interest on its debt. An interest coverage ratio less than 1.5 is questionable; a number less than 1 means that the company is not bringing in enough money to cover its interest expenses.
The EPS payout ratio, or dividends per share divided by earnings per share. The EPS payout ratio measures the percentage of earnings that go toward paying the dividend. A ratio greater than 80% is worrisome.
The FCF payout ratio, or dividends per share divided by free cash flow per share. Earnings alone don't always paint a complete picture of a business' health. The FCF payout ratio measures the percent of free cash flow devoted toward paying the dividend. Again, a ratio greater than 80% could be a red flag.
Let's examine Lorillard (NYS: LO) and three of its peers.
EPS Payout Ratio
FCF Payout Ratio
Philip Morris International (NYS: PM)
Altria (NYS: MO)
Reynolds American (NYS: RAI)
Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's.
With an interest coverage of 17.0, Lorillard covers every $1 in interest expenses with nearly $17 in operating earnings. Given its EPS payout ratio and FCF payout ratio are below 70%, you shouldn't have to worry that Lorillard will need to cut its dividend anytime soon.
Another tool for better investing
Most investors don't keep tabs on their companies. That's a mistake. If you take the time to read past the headlines and crack a filing now and then, you're in a much better position to spot potential trouble early. We can help you keep tabs on your companies with My Watchlist, our free, personalized stock-tracking service.
Add Lorillardto My Watchlist.
Add Philip Morris Internationalto My Watchlist.
Add Altriato My Watchlist.
Add Reynolds Americanto My Watchlist.
At the time thisarticle was published FollowDan Dzombakon Twitter at@DanDzombakto check out hismusings and see what articles he finds interesting.Motley Fool newsletter serviceshave recommended Philip Morris International. The Motley Fool owns shares of Philip Morris International and Altria Group.Motley Fool newsletter serviceshave recommended writing puts in Lorillard. 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.