Not all dividends are created equal. Here, we'll do a top-to-bottom analysis of a given company to understand the quality of its dividend and how that's changed over the past five years.
The company we're looking at today is Monsanto (NYS: MON) , which yields 1.5%.
To evaluate the quality of a dividend, the first thing to consider is whether the company has paid a dividend consistently over the past five years, and, if so, how much has it grown.
Monsanto has raised its dividend every year for the past five years to where it now sits at $0.30 per quarter.
To understand how safe a dividend is, we use three crucial tools, the first of which is:
The interest coverage ratio, or the number of times interest is earned, which is calculated by 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. A ratio less than 1.5 is questionable; a number less than 1 means the company is not bringing in enough money to cover its interest expenses.
Monsanto covers every $1 in interest expense with over $15 in operating earnings.
The other tools we use to evaluate the safety of a dividend are:
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's 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.
Source: S&P Capital IQ.
Monsanto's free cash flow payout ratio went negative and then spiked after the financial crisis. Its earnings payout ratio was stable throughout. Both ratios remain low at less than 40%.
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