It looks like Mueller Industries, Inc. (NYSE:MLI) is about to go ex-dividend in the next 3 days. Ex-dividend means that investors that purchase the stock on or after the 5th of September will not receive this dividend, which will be paid on the 20th of September.
Mueller Industries's next dividend payment will be US$0.10 per share, on the back of last year when the company paid a total of US$0.40 to shareholders. Based on the last year's worth of payments, Mueller Industries has a trailing yield of 1.5% on the current stock price of $26.36. We love seeing companies pay a dividend, but it's also important to be sure that laying the golden eggs isn't going to kill our golden goose! So we need to check whether the dividend payments are covered, and if earnings are growing.
Dividends are usually paid out of company profits, so if a company pays out more than it earned then its dividend is usually at greater risk of being cut. Mueller Industries paid out just 25% of its profit last year, which we think is conservatively low and leaves plenty of margin for unexpected circumstances. 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. What's good is that dividends were well covered by free cash flow, with the company paying out 15% of its cash flow last year.
It's positive to see that Mueller Industries'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.
Have Earnings And Dividends Been Growing?
When earnings decline, dividend companies become much harder to analyse and own safely. If earnings fall far enough, the company could be forced to cut its dividend. Readers will understand then, why we're concerned to see Mueller Industries's earnings per share have dropped 12% a year over the past five years. Ultimately, when earnings per share decline, the size of the pie from which dividends can be paid, shrinks.
Another key way to measure a company's dividend prospects is by measuring its historical rate of dividend growth. In the last 10 years, Mueller Industries has lifted its dividend by approximately 7.2% a year on average.
The Bottom Line
Is Mueller Industries an attractive dividend stock, or better left on the shelf? Mueller Industries has comfortably low cash and profit payout ratios, which may mean the dividend is sustainable even in the face of a sharp decline in earnings per share. Still, we consider declining earnings to be a warning sign. 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.
Want to learn more about Mueller Industries? Here's a visualisation of its historical rate of revenue and earnings growth.
We wouldn't recommend just buying the first dividend stock you see, though. Here's a list of interesting dividend stocks with a greater than 2% yield and an upcoming dividend.
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