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Income Investors Should Know That AbbVie Inc. (NYSE:ABBV) Goes Ex-Dividend Soon

Simply Wall St

Regular readers will know that we love our dividends at Simply Wall St, which is why it's exciting to see AbbVie Inc. (NYSE:ABBV) is about to trade ex-dividend in the next 3 days. You will need to purchase shares before the 11th of October to receive the dividend, which will be paid on the 15th of November.

AbbVie's next dividend payment will be US$1.1 per share, and in the last 12 months, the company paid a total of US$4.3 per share. Last year's total dividend payments show that AbbVie has a trailing yield of 5.7% on the current share price of $74.66. Dividends are a major contributor to investment returns for long term holders, but only if the dividend continues to be paid. We need to see whether the dividend is covered by earnings and if it's growing.

Check out our latest analysis for AbbVie

Dividends are typically paid from company earnings. If a company pays more in dividends than it earned in profit, then the dividend could be unsustainable. AbbVie paid out 152% of profit in the past year, which we think is typically not sustainable unless there are mitigating characteristics such as unusually strong cash flow or a large cash balance. Yet cash flows are even more important than profits for assessing a dividend, so we need to see if the company generated enough cash to pay its distribution. Thankfully its dividend payments took up just 48% of the free cash flow it generated, which is a comfortable payout ratio.

It's disappointing to see that the dividend was not covered by profits, but cash is more important from a dividend sustainability perspective, and AbbVie fortunately did generate enough cash to fund its dividend. Still, if the company repeatedly paid a dividend greater than its profits, we'd be concerned. Extraordinarily few companies are capable of persistently paying a dividend that is greater than their profits.

Click here to see the company's payout ratio, plus analyst estimates of its future dividends.

NYSE:ABBV Historical Dividend Yield, October 7th 2019

Have Earnings And Dividends Been Growing?

Stocks with flat earnings can still be attractive dividend payers, but it is important to be more conservative with your approach and demand a greater margin for safety when it comes to dividend sustainability. Investors love dividends, so if earnings fall and the dividend is reduced, expect a stock to be sold off heavily at the same time. With that in mind, we're not enthused to see that AbbVie's earnings per share have remained effectively flat over the past five years. It's better than seeing them drop, certainly, but over the long term, all of the best dividend stocks are able to meaningfully grow their earnings per share.

Another key way to measure a company's dividend prospects is by measuring its historical rate of dividend growth. AbbVie has delivered an average of 15% per year annual increase in its dividend, based on the past seven years of dividend payments.

To Sum It Up

Is AbbVie an attractive dividend stock, or better left on the shelf? Earnings per share have been flat and, while AbbVie paid out just 152% of its cashflow, it paid out an uncomfortably high percentage of its profit. It might be worth researching if the company is reinvesting in growth projects that could grow earnings and dividends in the future, but for now we're not all that optimistic on its dividend prospects.

Ever wonder what the future holds for AbbVie? See what the ten analysts we track are forecasting, with this visualisation of its historical and future estimated earnings and cash flow

A common investment mistake is buying the first interesting stock you see. Here you can find a list of promising dividend stocks with a greater than 2% yield and an upcoming dividend.

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.