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Atmos Energy (ATO) is a Top Dividend Stock Right Now: Should You Buy?

Zacks Equity Research
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All investors love getting big returns from their portfolio, whether it's through stocks, bonds, ETFs, or other types of securities. But for income investors, generating consistent cash flow from each of your liquid investments is your primary focus.

Cash flow can come from bond interest, interest from other types of investments, and of course, dividends. A dividend is that coveted distribution of a company's earnings paid out to shareholders, and investors often view it by its dividend yield, a metric that measures the dividend as a percent of the current stock price. Many academic studies show that dividends make up large portions of long-term returns, and in many cases, dividend contributions surpass one-third of total returns.

Atmos Energy in Focus

Headquartered in Dallas, Atmos Energy (ATO) is a Utilities stock that has seen a price change of 8.48% so far this year. Currently paying a dividend of $0.52 per share, the company has a dividend yield of 2.09%. In comparison, the Utility - Gas Distribution industry's yield is 2.55%, while the S&P 500's yield is 1.92%.

Looking at dividend growth, the company's current annualized dividend of $2.10 is up 8.2% from last year. In the past five-year period, Atmos Energy has increased its dividend 5 times on a year-over-year basis for an average annual increase of 7.54%. Future dividend growth will depend on earnings growth as well as payout ratio, which is the proportion of a company's annual earnings per share that it pays out as a dividend. Atmos's current payout ratio is 52%, meaning it paid out 52% of its trailing 12-month EPS as dividend.

ATO is expecting earnings to expand this fiscal year as well. The Zacks Consensus Estimate for 2019 is $4.29 per share, representing a year-over-year earnings growth rate of 7.25%.

Bottom Line

Investors like dividends for many reasons; they greatly improve stock investing profits, decrease overall portfolio risk, and carry tax advantages, among others. It's important to keep in mind that not all companies provide a quarterly payout.

Big, established firms that have more secure profits are often seen as the best dividend options, but it's fairly uncommon to see high-growth businesses or tech start-ups offer their stockholders a dividend. Income investors must be conscious of the fact that high-yielding stocks tend to struggle during periods of rising interest rates. That said, they can take comfort from the fact that ATO is not only an attractive dividend play, but is also a compelling investment opportunity with a Zacks Rank of #2 (Buy).


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