The bull market has been churning higher for nearly 10 years now as the S&P 500 has more than quadrupled since the market bottom in 2009. Nearly every major economic indicator shows that the U.S. economy is on fire: unemployment is under 4%, GDP (gross domestic product) is surging, and consumer confidence is near the highest levels ever recorded.
Nevertheless, not every stock has been a winner, as some sectors like brick-and-mortar retailers have struggled, and the nature of economic competition means that some businesses have done better than others. Investors in some high-yield dividend stocks may be worried about a payout cut, especially with rising interest rates making bonds more appealing.
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Let's take a closer look at three high-yield dividend stocks that could see a reduced payout. Keep reading to find out why L Brands (NYSE: LB), General Electric (NYSE: GE), and Dean Foods (NYSE: DF) could get their dividends slashed.
1. L Brands
L Brands, better known as the parent of Victoria's Secret and Bath & Body Works, has seen its share price tumble lately as sales and profits have eroded. Mall traffic has fallen, squeezing sales for the shopping-center staple, and Victoria's Secret, in particular, has been challenged by competition from American Eagle's Aerie and a shift in consumer demand from traditional bras, where Victoria's Secret had an advantage, to lower-priced bralettes.
As a result, the stock is down 69% over the last three years and 50% year to date. However, the company has maintained the same dividend payout since 2016, at $0.60 a share. Today, that gives the stock a lofty dividend yield of 7.7%, but the company may not be able to sustain that payout, especially if profits continue to fall.
The company's payout ratio, or the percentage of its profits that go to fund dividends, is projected to reach 94% based on this year's expected earnings per share. On a free cash flow basis over the last four quarters, L Brands' payout ratio is already at 94%, indicating that nearly all of its cash profits are going to pay dividends.
On the recent earnings call, CFO Stuart Burgdoerfer said he was "comfortable with the dividend today," and believed stronger holiday sales would boost profits. Indeed, L Brands makes the vast majority of its profits during the holiday quarter so the coming months will be key, but if performance doesn't turn around soon, the dividend may need to get a shave.
2. General Electric
General Electric has turned into a poster child for mismanagement in recent years. The industrial giant, which was the most valuable U.S. company as recently as 2000, has seen its stock price dive 60% since the beginning of 2017 as a growing debt burden, convoluted business structure, and problems in its power segment have driven down profits and led to calls for a breakup.
Those issues came to the fore last year when former CEO Jeffrey Immelt stepped down and was replaced by John Flannery, previously the president and CEO of GE Healthcare, who exposed significant inefficiencies and waste at the company. In one example, Immelt sometimes had a corporate jet follow his own plane on business trips in case the first one had problems.
Flannery said he would spin off units including GE Healthcare and its stake in oil-services company Baker Hughes. He also slashed the dividend in half last November in order to help pay down the company's bloated debt burden.
However, GE's current 4% yield may not be sustainable if the company seeks a full turnaround. Flannery himself got axed earlier this month in a surprise move by GE's board, which replaced him with turnaround specialist Larry Culp.
Flannery had signaled that the dividend would get cut again after the sale of the healthcare unit as GE becomes a smaller company, but that decision will now be up to Culp. Some analysts expect him to cut the payout by as much as 80% as it's currently eating up more than 100% of the company's free cash flow. Unless the power division makes a quick turnaround, a dividend cut looks almost certain.
3. Dean Foods
Like the two other stocks above, Dean Foods shares have not fared well of late. The nation's largest dairy producer, Dean Foods has seen its shares fall 65% since the beginning of 2017 as milk consumption in the U.S. continues to decline and brand-building initiatives have failed to pay off. More recently, the company has begun a cost-cutting program that aims to reduce costs by $150 million.
Dean Foods currently pays a dividend yield of 4.8% with a $0.09 payout per quarter. Based on the midpoint of the company's recent full-year earnings per share of $0.32-$0.52, the dividend appears stretched as the payout ratio is now at 86%. If results come in near the lower end of that range, the dividend won't be fully funded by earnings.
Management took the odd step in its most recent earnings report of cutting capital expenditures by $10 million, ostensibly in order to help fund its dividend. Free cash flow guidance is now at $40 million-$60 million this year after the $10 million bump, which should allow it to fund the $33 million in dividend payouts. The dividend, however, is likely to face pressure if earnings continue to slide.
Keep your eye on the company's progress in its restructuring initiative. If that fails to deliver the desired results, the dividend could soon be on the chopping block.
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