Is Agilent Technologies, Inc. (NYSE:A) a good dividend stock? How can we tell? Dividend paying companies with growing earnings can be highly rewarding in the long term. On the other hand, investors have been known to buy a stock because of its yield, and then lose money if the company's dividend doesn't live up to expectations.
With a 0.9% yield and a eight-year payment history, investors probably think Agilent Technologies looks like a reliable dividend stock. A low yield is generally a turn-off, but if the prospects for earnings growth were strong, investors might be pleasantly surprised by the long-term results. The company also bought back stock equivalent to around 3.3% of market capitalisation this year. Some simple analysis can reduce the risk of holding Agilent Technologies for its dividend, and we'll focus on the most important aspects below.
Dividends are usually paid out of company earnings. If a company is paying more than it earns, then the dividend might become unsustainable - hardly an ideal situation. 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. In the last year, Agilent Technologies paid out 19% of its profit as dividends. Given the low payout ratio, it is hard to envision the dividend coming under threat, barring a catastrophe.
In addition to comparing dividends against profits, we should inspect whether the company generated enough cash to pay its dividend. Agilent Technologies's cash payout ratio last year was 22%, which is quite low and suggests that the dividend was thoroughly covered by cash flow. 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.
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. The first recorded dividend for Agilent Technologies, in the last decade, was eight years ago. Although it has been paying a dividend for several years now, the dividend has been cut at least once by more than 20%, and we're cautious about the consistency of its dividend across a full economic cycle. During the past eight-year period, the first annual payment was US$0.40 in 2011, compared to US$0.66 last year. This works out to be a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of approximately 6.4% a year over that time. The growth in dividends has not been linear, but the CAGR is a decent approximation of the rate of change over this time frame.
It's good to see the dividend growing at a decent rate, but the dividend has been cut at least once in the past. Agilent Technologies might have put its house in order since then, but we remain cautious.
Dividend Growth Potential
With a relatively unstable dividend, it's even more important to evaluate if earnings per share (EPS) are growing - it's not worth taking the risk on a dividend getting cut, unless you might be rewarded with larger dividends in future. Strong earnings per share (EPS) growth might encourage our interest in the company despite fluctuating dividends, which is why it's great to see Agilent Technologies has grown its earnings per share at 39% per annum over the past five years. The company is only paying out a fraction of its earnings as dividends, and in the past been able to use the retained earnings to grow its profits rapidly - an ideal combination.
To summarise, shareholders should always check that Agilent Technologies's dividends are affordable, that its dividend payments are relatively stable, and that it has decent prospects for growing its earnings and dividend. It's great to see that Agilent Technologies is paying out a low percentage of its earnings and cash flow. Second, earnings per share have been essentially flat, and its history of dividend payments is chequered - having cut its dividend at least once in the past. Overall we think Agilent Technologies scores well on our analysis. It's not quite perfect, but we'd definitely be keen to take a closer look.
Companies that are growing earnings tend to be the best dividend stocks over the long term. See what the 14 analysts we track are forecasting for Agilent Technologies for free with public analyst estimates for the company.
Looking for more high-yielding dividend ideas? Try our curated list of dividend stocks with a yield above 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.