U.S. Markets close in 6 hrs 2 mins

Should Abbott Laboratories (NYSE:ABT) Be Part Of Your Dividend Portfolio?

Simply Wall St

Is Abbott Laboratories (NYSE:ABT) a good dividend stock? How would you know? Dividend paying companies with growing earnings can be highly rewarding in the long term. 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 1.7% yield is nothing to get excited about, but investors probably think the long payment history suggests Abbott Laboratories has some staying power. Some simple research can reduce the risk of buying Abbott Laboratories for its dividend - read on to learn more.

Explore this interactive chart for our latest analysis on Abbott Laboratories!

NYSE:ABT Historical Dividend Yield, May 18th 2019

Want to participate in a short research study? Help shape the future of investing tools and you could win a $250 gift card!

Payout ratios

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. 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 82% of Abbott Laboratories's profits were paid out as dividends in the last 12 months. Paying out a majority of its earnings limits the amount that can be reinvested in the business. This may indicate a commitment to paying a dividend, or a dearth of investment opportunities.

In addition to comparing dividends against profits, we should inspect whether the company generated enough cash to pay its dividend. Of the free cash flow it generated last year, Abbott Laboratories paid out 44% as dividends, suggesting the dividend is affordable.


Is Abbott Laboratories's Balance Sheet Risky?

As Abbott Laboratories 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 a company's total debt load relative to its earnings (lower = less debt), while net interest cover measures the company's ability to pay the interest on its debt (higher = greater ability to pay interest costs). Abbott Laboratories has net debt of 2.29 times its earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortisation (EBITDA). Using debt can accelerate business growth, but also increases the risks.

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 6.13 times its interest expense appears reasonable for Abbott Laboratories, although we're conscious that even high interest cover doesn't make a company bulletproof.

We update our data on Abbott Laboratories 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. Abbott Laboratories 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 cut by more than 20% on at least one occasion historically. During the past ten-year period, the first annual payment was US$1.60 in 2009, compared to US$1.28 last year. The dividend has shrunk at around -2.2% a year during that period. Abbott Laboratories's dividend has been cut sharply at least once, so it hasn't fallen by -2.2% every year, but this is a decent approximation of the long term change.


Dividend Growth Potential

Given that the dividend has been cut in the past, we need to check if earnings are growing and if that might lead to stronger dividends in the future. Earnings have grown at around 3.0% a year for the past five years, which is better than seeing them shrink! Abbott Laboratories's earnings per share have barely grown, which is not ideal - perhaps this is why the company pays out the majority of its earnings to shareholders. When a company prefers to pay out cash to its shareholders instead of reinvesting it, this can often say a lot about that company's dividend prospects.

Conclusion

To summarise, shareholders should always check that Abbott Laboratories's dividends are affordable, that its dividend payments are relatively stable, and that it has decent prospects for growing its earnings and dividend. Abbott Laboratories's payout ratios are within a normal range for the average corporation, and we like that its cashflow was stronger than reported profits. Unfortunately, earnings growth has also been mediocre, and the company has cut its dividend at least once in the past. Ultimately, Abbott Laboratories comes up short on our dividend analysis. It's not that we think it is a bad company - just that there are likely more appealing dividend prospects out there on this analysis.

Companies that are growing earnings tend to be the best dividend stocks over the long term. See what the 19 analysts we track are forecasting for Abbott Laboratories for free with public analyst estimates for the company.

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.