Here’s How We Evaluate Quest Diagnostics Incorporated’s (NYSE:DGX) Dividend

Today we’ll take a closer look at Quest Diagnostics Incorporated (NYSE:DGX) from a dividend investor’s perspective. Owning a strong business and reinvesting the dividends is widely seen as an attractive way of growing your wealth. 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.

While Quest Diagnostics’s 2.2% dividend yield is not the highest, we think its lengthy payment history is quite interesting. The company also bought back stock equivalent to around 2.0% of market capitalisation this year. Some simple research can reduce the risk of buying Quest Diagnostics for its dividend – read on to learn more.

Explore this interactive chart for our latest analysis on Quest Diagnostics!

NYSE:DGX Historical Dividend Yield, May 20th 2019
NYSE:DGX Historical Dividend Yield, May 20th 2019

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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 39% of Quest Diagnostics’s profits were paid out as dividends in the last 12 months. A medium payout ratio strikes a good balance between paying dividends, and keeping enough back to invest in the business. Plus, there is room to increase the payout ratio 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. Of the free cash flow it generated last year, Quest Diagnostics paid out 28% as dividends, suggesting the dividend is affordable.

Is Quest Diagnostics’s Balance Sheet Risky?

As Quest Diagnostics 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 is a measure of a company’s total debt. Net interest cover measures the ability to meet interest payments on debt. Essentially we check that a) a company does not have too much debt, and b) that it can afford to pay the interest. With net debt of more than twice its EBITDA, Quest Diagnostics has a noticeable amount of debt, although if business stays steady, this may not be overly concerning.

We calculated its interest cover by measuring its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT), and dividing this by the company’s net interest expense. Net interest cover of 6.95 times its interest expense appears reasonable for Quest Diagnostics, although we’re conscious that even high interest cover doesn’t make a company bulletproof.

We update our data on Quest Diagnostics 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. Quest Diagnostics 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 ten-year period, the first annual payment was US$0.40 in 2009, compared to US$2.12 last year. This works out to be a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of approximately 18% a year over that time.

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. Quest Diagnostics’s earnings per share have been essentially flat over the past five years. Flat earnings per share are acceptable for a time, but over the long term, the purchasing power of the company’s dividends could be eroded by inflation.

Conclusion

To summarise, shareholders should always check that Quest Diagnostics’s dividends are affordable, that its dividend payments are relatively stable, and that it has decent prospects for growing its earnings and dividend. First, we like that the company’s dividend payments appear well covered, although the retained capital also needs to be effectively reinvested. 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. Quest Diagnostics has a number of positive attributes, but it falls slightly short of our (admittedly high) standards. Were there evidence of a strong moat or an attractive valuation, it could still be well worth a look.

Given that earnings are not growing, the dividend does not look nearly so attractive. Very few businesses see earnings consistently shrink year after year in perpetuity though, and so it might be worth seeing what the 20 analysts we track are forecasting for the future.

We have also put together a list of global stocks with a market capitalisation above $1bn and yielding more 3%.

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.

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. Thank you for reading.