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This is Why Atmos Energy (ATO) is a Great Dividend Stock

Zacks Equity Research

Getting big returns from financial portfolios, whether through stocks, bonds, ETFs, other securities, or a combination of all, is an investor's dream. However, when you're an income investor, your primary focus is generating consistent cash flow from each of your liquid investments.

Cash flow can come from bond interest, interest from other types of investments, and of course, dividends. A dividend is the distribution of a company's earnings paid out to shareholders; it's often viewed by its dividend yield, a metric that measures a dividend as a percent of the current stock price. Many academic studies show that dividends make up large portions of long-term returns, and in many cases, dividend contributions surpass one-third of total returns.

Atmos Energy in Focus

Atmos Energy (ATO) is headquartered in Dallas, and is in the Utilities sector. The stock has seen a price change of 15.62% since the start of the year. The natural gas utility is currently shelling out a dividend of $0.57 per share, with a dividend yield of 2.15%. This compares to the Utility - Gas Distribution industry's yield of 2.8% and the S&P 500's yield of 1.82%.

In terms of dividend growth, the company's current annualized dividend of $2.30 is up 18.6% from last year. Over the last 5 years, Atmos Energy has increased its dividend 5 times on a year-over-year basis for an average annual increase of 7.37%. Looking ahead, future dividend growth will be dependent on earnings growth and payout ratio, which is the proportion of a company's annual earnings per share that it pays out as a dividend. Atmos's current payout ratio is 48%, meaning it paid out 48% of its trailing 12-month EPS as dividend.

Looking at this fiscal year, ATO expects solid earnings growth. The Zacks Consensus Estimate for 2019 is $4.67 per share, with earnings expected to increase 7.36% from the year ago period.

Bottom Line

Investors like dividends for many reasons; they greatly improve stock investing profits, decrease overall portfolio risk, and carry tax advantages, among others. But, not every company offers a quarterly payout.

Big, established firms that have more secure profits are often seen as the best dividend options, but it's fairly uncommon to see high-growth businesses or tech start-ups offer their stockholders a dividend. Income investors have to be mindful of the fact that high-yielding stocks tend to struggle during periods of rising interest rates. That said, they can take comfort from the fact that ATO is not only an attractive dividend play, but is also a compelling investment opportunity with a Zacks Rank of #2 (Buy).


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