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What To Know Before Buying Abbott Laboratories (NYSE:ABT) For Its Dividend

Simply Wall St

Today we'll take a closer look at Abbott Laboratories (NYSE:ABT) from a dividend investor's perspective. Owning a strong business and reinvesting the dividends is widely seen as an attractive way of growing your wealth. If you are hoping to live on your dividends, it's important to be more stringent with your investments than the average punter. Regular readers know we like to apply the same approach to each dividend stock, and we hope you'll find our analysis useful.

A 1.5% yield is nothing to get excited about, but investors probably think the long payment history suggests Abbott Laboratories has some staying power. When buying stocks for their dividends, you should always run through the checks below, to see if the dividend looks sustainable.

Click the interactive chart for our full dividend analysis

NYSE:ABT Historical Dividend Yield, November 28th 2019

Payout ratios

Dividends are typically paid from company earnings. If a company pays more in dividends than it earned, then the dividend might become unsustainable - hardly an ideal situation. So we need to form a view on if a company's dividend is sustainable, relative to its net profit after tax. Abbott Laboratories paid out 69% of its profit as dividends, over the trailing twelve month period. This is a healthy payout ratio, and while it does limit the amount of earnings that can be reinvested in the business, there is also some room to lift the payout ratio over time.

Another important check we do is to see if the free cash flow generated is sufficient to pay the dividend. Abbott Laboratories paid out 58% of its cash flow as dividends last year, which is within a reasonable range for the average corporation. It's positive to see that Abbott Laboratories'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 Abbott Laboratories's latest financial position, by checking our visualisation of its financial health.

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. Abbott Laboratories has been paying dividends for a long time, but for the purpose of this analysis, we only examine the past 10 years of payments. The dividend has been cut by more than 20% on at least one occasion historically. During the past ten-year period, the first annual payment was US$1.44 in 2009, compared to US$1.28 last year. This works out to be a decline of approximately 1.2% per year over that time. Abbott Laboratories's dividend has been cut sharply at least once, so it hasn't fallen by 1.2% every year, but this is a decent approximation of the long term change.

A shrinking dividend over a ten-year period is not ideal, and we'd be concerned about investing in a dividend stock that lacks a solid record of growing dividends per share.

Dividend Growth Potential

Given that the dividend has been cut in the past, we need to check if earnings are growing and if that might lead to stronger dividends in the future. Abbott Laboratories has grown its earnings per share at 7.9% per annum over the past five years. Earnings per share are growing at an acceptable rate, although the company is paying out more than half of its profits, which we think could constrain its ability to reinvest in its business.

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 Abbott Laboratories is paying out an acceptable percentage of its cashflow and profit. Second, earnings growth has been ordinary, and its history of dividend payments is chequered - having cut its dividend at least once in the past. While we're not hugely bearish on it, overall we think there are potentially better dividend stocks than Abbott Laboratories out there.

Companies that are growing earnings tend to be the best dividend stocks over the long term. See what the 19 analysts we track are forecasting for Abbott Laboratories for free with public analyst estimates for the company.

If you are a dividend investor, you might also want to look at our curated list of dividend stocks yielding above 3%.

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.

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. Thank you for reading.