Are Dividend Investors Getting More Than They Bargained For With Altria Group, Inc.'s (NYSE:MO) Dividend?

By
Simply Wall St
Published
May 04, 2021
NYSE:MO
Source: Shutterstock

Could Altria Group, Inc. (NYSE:MO) 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 high yield and a long history of paying dividends is an appealing combination for Altria Group. We'd guess that plenty of investors have purchased it for the income. Some simple research can reduce the risk of buying Altria Group for its dividend - read on to learn more.

Explore this interactive chart for our latest analysis on Altria Group!

historic-dividend
NYSE:MO Historic Dividend May 4th 2021

Payout ratios

Companies (usually) pay dividends out of their earnings. If a company is paying more than it earns, the dividend might have to be cut. Comparing dividend payments to a company's net profit after tax is a simple way of reality-checking whether a dividend is sustainable. Looking at the data, we can see that 147% of Altria Group's profits were paid out as dividends in the last 12 months. A payout ratio above 100% is definitely an item of concern, unless there are some other circumstances that would justify it.

We also measure dividends paid against a company's levered free cash flow, to see if enough cash was generated to cover the dividend. Altria Group paid out 78% of its cash flow last year. This may be sustainable but it does not leave much of a buffer for unexpected circumstances. It's disappointing to see that the dividend was not covered by profits, but cash is more important from a dividend sustainability perspective, and Altria Group fortunately did generate enough cash to fund its dividend. Still, if the company repeatedly paid a dividend greater than its profits, we'd be concerned. Extraordinarily few companies are capable of persistently paying a dividend that is greater than their profits.

Consider getting our latest analysis on Altria Group's financial position here.

Dividend Volatility

From the perspective of an income investor who wants to earn dividends for many years, there is not much point buying a stock if its dividend is regularly cut or is not reliable. Altria Group has been paying dividends for a long time, but for the purpose of this analysis, we only examine the past 10 years of 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 10-year period, the first annual payment was US$1.4 in 2011, compared to US$3.4 last year. Dividends per share have grown at approximately 9.4% per year over this time.

Dividends have grown at a reasonable rate over this period, and without any major cuts in the payment over time, we think this is an attractive combination.

Dividend Growth Potential

While dividend payments have been relatively reliable, it would also be nice if earnings per share (EPS) were growing, as this is essential to maintaining the dividend's purchasing power over the long term. It's not great to see that Altria Group's have fallen at approximately 3.4% over the past five years. If earnings continue to decline, the dividend may come under pressure. Every investor should make an assessment of whether the company is taking steps to stabilise the situation.

Conclusion

To summarise, shareholders should always check that Altria Group's dividends are affordable, that its dividend payments are relatively stable, and that it has decent prospects for growing its earnings and dividend. We're a bit uncomfortable with its high payout ratio, although at least the dividend was covered by free cash flow. It's not great to see earnings per share shrinking. The dividends have been relatively consistent, but we wonder for how much longer this will be true. In summary, Altria Group has a number of shortcomings that we'd find it hard to get past. Things could change, but we think there are a number of better ideas out there.

Market movements attest to how highly valued a consistent dividend policy is compared to one which is more unpredictable. Meanwhile, despite the importance of dividend payments, they are not the only factors our readers should know when assessing a company. As an example, we've identified 3 warning signs for Altria Group that you should be aware of before investing.

If you are a dividend investor, you might also want to look at our curated list of dividend stocks yielding above 3%.

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