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Here's How We Evaluate Gilead Sciences, Inc.'s (NASDAQ:GILD) Dividend

Simply Wall St

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Dividend paying stocks like Gilead Sciences, Inc. (NASDAQ:GILD) 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. Unfortunately, it's common for investors to be enticed in by the seemingly attractive yield, and lose money when the company has to cut its dividend payments.

With a goodly-sized dividend yield despite a relatively short payment history, investors might be wondering if Gilead Sciences is a new dividend aristocrat in the making. We'd agree the yield does look enticing. The company also bought back stock equivalent to around 2.9% of market capitalisation this year. Some simple analysis can offer a lot of insights when buying a company for its dividend, and we'll go through this below.

Explore this interactive chart for our latest analysis on Gilead Sciences!

NasdaqGS:GILD Historical Dividend Yield, June 9th 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. 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 51% of Gilead Sciences's profits were paid out as dividends in the last 12 months. This is a fairly normal payout ratio among most businesses. It allows a higher dividend to be paid to shareholders, but does limit the capital retained in the business - which could be good or bad.

In addition to comparing dividends against profits, we should inspect whether the company generated enough cash to pay its dividend. Gilead Sciences paid out a conservative 45% of its free cash flow as dividends last year. It's positive to see that Gilead Sciences's dividend is covered by both profits and cash flow, since this is generally a sign that the dividend is sustainable, and a lower payout ratio usually suggests a greater margin of safety before the dividend gets cut.

Remember, you can always get a snapshot of Gilead Sciences's latest financial position, by checking our visualisation of its financial health.

Dividend Volatility

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. Gilead Sciences has been paying a dividend for the past four years. The company has been paying a stable dividend for a few years now, but we'd like to see more evidence of consistency over a longer period. During the past four-year period, the first annual payment was US$1.72 in 2015, compared to US$2.52 last year. Dividends per share have grown at approximately 10% per year over this time.

The dividend has been growing pretty quickly, which could be enough to get us interested even though the dividend history is relatively short. Further research may be warranted.

Dividend Growth Potential

The other half of the dividend investing equation is evaluating whether earnings per share (EPS) are growing. Over the long term, dividends need to grow at or above the rate of inflation, in order to maintain the recipient's purchasing power. It's good to see Gilead Sciences has been growing its earnings per share at 18% a year over the past 5 years. Earnings per share have been growing rapidly, but given that it is paying out more than half of its earnings as dividends, we wonder how Gilead Sciences will keep funding its growth projects in the future.

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. First, we think Gilead Sciences has an acceptable payout ratio and its dividend is well covered by cashflow. Next, earnings growth has been good, but unfortunately the company has not been paying dividends as long as we'd like. Gilead Sciences has a number of positive attributes, but it falls slightly short of our (admittedly high) standards. Were there evidence of a strong moat or an attractive valuation, it could still be well worth a look.

Earnings growth generally bodes well for the future value of company dividend payments. See if the 24 Gilead Sciences 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.