Should American Water Works Company, Inc. (NYSE:AWK) Be Part Of Your Dividend Portfolio?

Could American Water Works Company, Inc. (NYSE:AWK) be an attractive dividend share to own for the long haul? Investors are often drawn to strong companies with the idea of reinvesting the dividends. If you are hoping to live on the income from dividends, it’s important to be a lot more stringent with your investments than the average punter.

A 1.5% yield is nothing to get excited about, but investors probably think the long payment history suggests American Water Works Company has some staying power. When buying stocks for their dividends, you should always run through the checks below, to see if the dividend looks sustainable.

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NYSE:AWK Historical Dividend Yield, January 30th 2020
NYSE:AWK Historical Dividend Yield, January 30th 2020

Payout ratios

Dividends are usually paid out of company earnings. If a company is paying more than it earns, then the dividend might become unsustainable – hardly an ideal situation. So we need to form a view on if a company’s dividend is sustainable, relative to its net profit after tax. Looking at the data, we can see that 55% of American Water Works Company’s profits were paid out as dividends in the last 12 months. A payout ratio above 50% generally implies a business is reaching maturity, although it is still possible to reinvest in the business or increase the dividend over time.

We also measure dividends paid against a company’s levered free cash flow, to see if enough cash was generated to cover the dividend. Last year, American Water Works Company paid a dividend while reporting negative free cash flow. While there may be an explanation, we think this behaviour is generally not sustainable.

Is American Water Works Company’s Balance Sheet Risky?

As American Water Works Company has a meaningful amount of debt, we need to check its balance sheet to see if the company might have debt risks. A rough way to check this is with these two simple ratios: a) net debt divided by EBITDA (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation), and b) net interest cover. Net debt to EBITDA measures total debt load relative to company earnings (lower = less debt), while net interest cover measures the ability to pay interest on the debt (higher = greater ability to pay interest costs). American Water Works Company has net debt of 5.14 times its EBITDA, which implies meaningful risk if interest rates rise of earnings decline.

We calculated its interest cover by measuring its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT), and dividing this by the company’s net interest expense. With EBIT of 3.17 times its interest expense, American Water Works Company’s interest cover is starting to look a bit thin. Low interest cover and high debt can create problems right when the investor least needs them, and we’re reluctant to rely on the dividend of companies with these traits.

We update our data on American Water Works Company every 24 hours, so you can always get our latest analysis of its financial health, here.

Dividend Volatility

Before buying a stock for its income, we want to see if the dividends have been stable in the past, and if the company has a track record of maintaining its dividend. For the purpose of this article, we only scrutinise the last decade of American Water Works Company’s dividend payments. The dividend has been stable over the past 10 years, which is great. We think this could suggest some resilience to the business and its dividends. During the past ten-year period, the first annual payment was US$0.80 in 2010, compared to US$2.00 last year. This works out to be a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of approximately 9.6% a year over that time.

Companies like this, growing their dividend at a decent rate, can be very valuable over the long term, if the rate of growth can be maintained.

Dividend Growth Potential

Dividend payments have been consistent over the past few years, but we should always check if earnings per share (EPS) are growing, as this will help maintain the purchasing power of the dividend. Strong earnings per share (EPS) growth might encourage our interest in the company despite fluctuating dividends, which is why it’s great to see American Water Works Company has grown its earnings per share at 11% per annum over the past five years. American Water Works Company’s earnings per share have grown rapidly in recent years, although more than half of its profits are being paid out as dividends, which makes us wonder if the company has a limited number of reinvestment opportunities in its business.

Conclusion

When we look at a dividend stock, we need to form a judgement on whether the dividend will grow, if the company is able to maintain it in a wide range of economic circumstances, and if the dividend payout is sustainable. First, the company has a payout ratio that was within an average range for most dividend stocks, but it paid out virtually all of its generated cash flow. Next, growing earnings per share and steady dividend payments is a great combination. In sum, we find it hard to get excited about American Water Works Company from a dividend perspective. It’s not that we think it’s a bad business; just that there are other companies that perform better on these criteria.

Earnings growth generally bodes well for the future value of company dividend payments. See if the 12 American Water Works Company analysts we track are forecasting continued growth with our free report on analyst estimates for the company.

Looking for more high-yielding dividend ideas? Try our curated list of dividend stocks with a yield above 3%.

If you spot an error that warrants correction, please contact the editor at editorial-team@simplywallst.com. This article by Simply Wall St is general in nature. It does not constitute a recommendation to buy or sell any stock, and does not take account of your objectives, or your financial situation. Simply Wall St has no position in the stocks mentioned.

We aim to bring you long-term focused research analysis driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis may not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements or qualitative material. Thank you for reading.