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Why Atmos Energy (ATO) is a Top Dividend Stock for Your Portfolio

Zacks Equity Research
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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 account for significant portions of long-term returns, with dividend contributions exceeding one-third of total returns in many cases.

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 10.88% since the start of the year. The natural gas utility is currently shelling out a dividend of $0.52 per share, with a dividend yield of 2.04%. This compares to the Utility - Gas Distribution industry's yield of 2.57% and the S&P 500's yield of 1.99%.

Taking a look at the company's dividend growth, its current annualized dividend of $2.10 is up 8.2% from last year. Atmos Energy has increased its dividend 5 times on a year-over-year basis over the last 5 years for an average annual increase of 7.29%. Future dividend growth will depend on earnings growth as well as payout ratio, which is the proportion of a company's annual earnings per share that it pays out as a dividend. Right now, Atmos's payout ratio is 52%, which means it paid out 52% of its trailing 12-month EPS as dividend.

Earnings growth looks solid for ATO for this fiscal year. The Zacks Consensus Estimate for 2019 is $4.29 per share, which represents a year-over-year growth rate of 7.25%.

Bottom Line

Investors like dividends for many reasons; they greatly improve stock investing profits, decrease overall portfolio risk, and carry tax advantages, among others. However, not all companies offer a quarterly payout.

High-growth firms or tech start-ups, for example, rarely provide their shareholders a dividend, while larger, more established companies that have more secure profits are often seen as the best dividend options. Income investors must be conscious of the fact that high-yielding stocks tend to struggle during periods of rising interest rates. With that in mind, ATO is a compelling investment opportunity. Not only is it a strong dividend play, but the stock currently sits at a Zacks Rank of 3 (Hold).


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