Dividend paying stocks like Agilent Technologies, Inc. (NYSE:A) tend to be popular with investors, and for good reason – some research suggests a significant amount of all stock market returns come from reinvested dividends. On the other hand, investors have been known to buy a stock because of its yield, and then lose money if the company’s dividend doesn’t live up to expectations.
With a 0.9% yield and a eight-year payment history, investors probably think Agilent Technologies looks like a reliable dividend stock. A 0.9% yield is not inspiring, but the longer payment history has some appeal. The company also bought back stock equivalent to around 3.3% of market capitalisation this year. Some simple analysis can reduce the risk of holding Agilent Technologies for its dividend, and we’ll focus on the most important aspects below.
Dividends are typically paid from company earnings. If a company pays more in dividends than it earned, 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. In the last year, Agilent Technologies paid out 19% of its profit as dividends. Given the low payout ratio, it is hard to envision the dividend coming under threat, barring a catastrophe.
We also measure dividends paid against a company’s levered free cash flow, to see if enough cash was generated to cover the dividend. Agilent Technologies paid out 22% of its free cash flow as dividends last year, which is conservative and suggests the dividend is sustainable. It’s encouraging to see that the dividend is covered by both profit and cash flow. This generally suggests the dividend is sustainable, as long as earnings don’t drop precipitously.
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. Looking at the last decade of data, we can see that Agilent Technologies paid its first dividend at least eight years ago. Although it has been paying a dividend for several years now, the dividend has been cut at least once by more than 20%, and we’re cautious about the consistency of its dividend across a full economic cycle. During the past eight-year period, the first annual payment was US$0.40 in 2011, compared to US$0.66 last year. This works out to be a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of approximately 6.4% a year over that time. The dividends haven’t grown at precisely 6.4% every year, but this is a useful way to average out the historical rate of growth.
It’s good to see the dividend growing at a decent rate, but the dividend has been cut at least once in the past. Agilent Technologies might have put its house in order since then, but we remain cautious.
Dividend Growth Potential
With a relatively unstable dividend, it’s even more important to see if earnings per share (EPS) are growing. Why take the risk of a dividend getting cut, unless there’s a good chance of bigger dividends in future? Strong earnings per share (EPS) growth might encourage our interest in the company despite fluctuating dividends, which is why it’s great to see Agilent Technologies has grown its earnings per share at 39% per annum over the past five years. Earnings per share have grown rapidly, and the company is retaining a majority of its earnings. We think this is ideal from an investment perspective, if the company is able to reinvest these earnings effectively.
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, we like that the company’s dividend payments appear well covered, although the retained capital also needs to be effectively reinvested. Unfortunately, the company has not been able to generate earnings per share growth, and cut its dividend at least once in the past. All things considered, Agilent Technologies looks like a strong prospect. At the right valuation, it could be something special.
Companies that are growing earnings tend to be the best dividend stocks over the long term. See what the 14 analysts we track are forecasting for Agilent Technologies for free with public analyst estimates for the company.
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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If you spot an error that warrants correction, please contact the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.