Growing EquityChanges in shareholder’s equity are a result of earnings, dividends paid, treasury stock purchased, stock options exercised and stock issued. If shares outstanding aren’t increasing, and equity is rising then the business is generating sufficient earnings to cover dividends and share repurchases. Increasing the value of the company by running the business well is a sign of a healthy company.
Declining SharesMany companies sell stock to raise cash. The important question is what is the company going to do with the cash? Is it for an acquisition or “general corporate purposes?” The latter is code for the business is not generating enough cash to stay afloat on its own. I am leery of a company that consistently grows its shares outstanding in the absence of major acquisitions.
Free Cash FlowFree cash flow focuses on cash generated by the business. It excludes asset sales and cash generated from financing, such as debt issuances and stock sales. To have cash available for dividends, a company must have cash left over after paying the operating expenses and normal capital expenditures. For this I looked for companies that had positive free cash flow for the last 10 years and a free cash flow payout less than 60%.
Debt To Total CapitalDividends that are paid out of free cash flow must compete for other needs of the business such as interest and debt payments. Lower debt and interest requirements make available more cash for dividend payments. Like shares outstanding, I am leery of a company that consistently issues debt in the absence of major acquisitions. For this metric, I looked for companies that have a debt to total capital of 45% or less.
Cash On The Balance SheetSome businesses are so good at what they do and have so few opportunities for reinvestment, they tend to build large cash balances. Companies such as this that also pay a cash dividend, provide an additional layer of comfort that the dividend is sustainable.
Stocks With Quality FinancialsAmounts in millions
The Coca-Cola Company (KO) | Yield: 2.8%
Equity: 2001 $11,366.0, 2006 16,920.0, 2010 31,317.0
Shares: 2001 2,487, 2006 2,344, 2010 2,322
FCF Payout: 55%
Debt to Total Capital: 43%
Cash on Balance Sheet: $8,517
Genuine Parts Company (GPC) | Yield: 3.4%
Equity: 2001 $2,345.0, 2006 2,550.0, 2010 2,803.0
Shares: 2001 173, 2006 170, 2010 158
FCF Payout: 43%
Debt to Total Capital: 15%
Cash on Balance Sheet: $530
Intel Corporation (INTC) | Yield: 3.1%
Equity: 2001 $35,830.0, 2006 36,752.0, 2010 49,430.0
Shares: 2001 6,712, 2006 5,766, 2010 5,578
FCF Payout: 31%
Debt to Total Capital: 4%
Cash on Balance Sheet: $5,498
AFLAC Inc. (AFL) | Yield: 2.1%
Equity: 2001 $5,425.0, 2006 8,341.0, 2010 11,056.0
Shares: 2001 522, 2006 495, 2010 471
FCF Payout: 8%
Debt to Total Capital: 23%
Cash on Balance Sheet: $2,121
Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) | Yield: 3.3%
Equity: 2001 $24,233.0, 2006 39,318.0, 2010 57,291.0
Shares: 2001 3,080, 2006 2,963, 2010 2,754
FCF Payout: 41%
Debt to Total Capital: 23%
Cash on Balance Sheet: $19,355
Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT) | Yield: 2.7%
Equity: 2001 $35,102.0, 2006 61,573.0, 2010 71,655.0
Shares: 2001 4,484, 2006 4,168, 2010 3,562
FCF Payout: 30%
Debt to Total Capital: 41%
Cash on Balance Sheet: $7,395
Medtronic, Inc. (MDT) | Yield: 2.2%
Equity: 2001 $5,510.0, 2006 9,383.0, 2010 14,629.0
Shares: 2001 1,209, 2006 1,207, 2010 1,102
FCF Payout: 25%
Debt to Total Capital: 39%
Cash on Balance Sheet: $1,283
A solid foundation is just the beginning. Selecting quality dividend stocks with sustainable dividends requires the investor to not only look back at the financials, but also look forward to determine in the business can continue to thrive going forward. To succeed as a dividend investor, you must find companies that can sustain and grow dividends by focusing on their ability to generate cash. You can fake earnings, but you can’t fake cash.
Full Disclosure: Long KO, GPC, INTC, JNJ, WMT, MDT. See a list of all my income holdings here.
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