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Is General Dynamics Corporation (NYSE:GD) A Smart Pick For Income Investors?

Simply Wall St

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Could General Dynamics Corporation (NYSE:GD) be an attractive dividend share to own for the long haul? Investors are often drawn to strong companies with the idea of reinvesting the dividends. 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 General Dynamics'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 2.8% of market capitalisation this year. Some simple research can reduce the risk of buying General Dynamics for its dividend - read on to learn more.

Click the interactive chart for our full dividend analysis

NYSE:GD Historical Dividend Yield, July 12th 2019

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. As a result, we should always investigate whether a company can afford its dividend, measured as a percentage of a company's net income after tax. Looking at the data, we can see that 34% of General Dynamics's profits were paid out as dividends in the last 12 months. This is a middling range that strikes a nice balance between paying dividends to shareholders, and retaining enough earnings to invest in future growth. One of the risks is that management reinvests the retained capital poorly instead of paying a higher dividend.

Another important check we do is to see if the free cash flow generated is sufficient to pay the dividend. The company paid out 53% of its free cash flow, which is not bad per se, but does start to limit the amount of cash General Dynamics has available to meet other needs. 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.

Is General Dynamics's Balance Sheet Risky?

As General Dynamics 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 total debt load relative to company earnings (lower = less debt), while net interest cover measures the ability to pay interest on the debt (higher = greater ability to pay interest costs). General Dynamics has net debt of 2.39 times its EBITDA. Using debt can accelerate business growth, but also increases the risks.

Net interest cover can be calculated by dividing earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) by the company's net interest expense. General Dynamics has EBIT of 10.14 times its interest expense, which we think is adequate.

Consider getting our latest analysis on General Dynamics's financial position here.

Dividend Volatility

One of the major risks of relying on dividend income, is the potential for a company to struggle financially and cut its dividend. Not only is your income cut, but the value of your investment declines as well - nasty. For the purpose of this article, we only scrutinise the last decade of General Dynamics's dividend 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$1.40 in 2009, compared to US$4.08 last year. This works out to be a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of approximately 11% a year over that time.

Dividends have been growing pretty quickly, and even more impressively, they haven't experienced any notable falls during this period.

Dividend Growth Potential

While dividend payments have been relatively reliable, it would also be nice if earnings per share (EPS) were growing, as this is essential to maintaining the dividend's purchasing power over the long term. Earnings have grown at around 9.7% a year for the past five years, which is better than seeing them shrink! Earnings per share have been growing at a credible rate. What's more, the payout ratio is reasonable and provides some protection to the dividend, or even the potential to increase it.

Conclusion

Dividend investors should always want to know if a) a company's dividends are affordable, b) if there is a track record of consistent payments, and c) if the dividend is capable of growing. Above all, we're glad to see that General Dynamics pays out a low fraction of its earnings and, while it paid a higher percentage of cashflow, this also was within a normal range. Next, growing earnings per share and steady dividend payments is a great combination. Overall we think General Dynamics scores well on our analysis. It's not quite perfect, but we'd definitely be keen to take a closer look.

Earnings growth generally bodes well for the future value of company dividend payments. See if the 17 General Dynamics analysts we track are forecasting continued growth with our free report on 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.