Is Johnson Controls International plc (NYSE:JCI) a good dividend stock? How can we tell? Dividend paying companies with growing earnings can be highly rewarding in the long term. Yet sometimes, investors buy a stock for its dividend and lose money because the share price falls by more than they earned in dividend payments.
A 2.6% yield is nothing to get excited about, but investors probably think the long payment history suggests Johnson Controls International has some staying power. The company also bought back stock equivalent to around 20% of market capitalisation this year. When buying stocks for their dividends, you should always run through the checks below, to see if the dividend looks sustainable.
Companies (usually) pay dividends out of their earnings. If a company is paying more than it earns, the dividend might have to be cut. As a result, we should always investigate whether a company can afford its dividend, measured as a percentage of a company's net income after tax. Looking at the data, we can see that 75% of Johnson Controls International's profits were paid out as dividends in the last 12 months. Paying out a majority of its earnings limits the amount that can be reinvested in the business. This may indicate a commitment to paying a dividend, or a dearth of investment opportunities.
Another important check we do is to see if the free cash flow generated is sufficient to pay the dividend. Johnson Controls International paid out 104% of its free cash last year. Cash flows can be lumpy, but this dividend was not well covered by cash flow. Johnson Controls International paid out less in dividends than it reported in profits, but unfortunately it didn't generate enough free cash flow to cover the dividend. Cash is king, as they say, and were Johnson Controls International to repeatedly pay dividends that aren't well covered by cashflow, we would consider this a warning sign.
We update our data on Johnson Controls International every 24 hours, so you can always get our latest analysis of its financial health, here.
From the perspective of an income investor who wants to earn dividends for many years, there is not much point buying a stock if its dividend is regularly cut or is not reliable. Johnson Controls International has been paying dividends for a long time, but for the purpose of this analysis, we only examine the past 10 years of payments. This dividend has been unstable, which we define as having been cut one or more times over this time. During the past ten-year period, the first annual payment was US$0.52 in 2010, compared to US$1.04 last year. This works out to be a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of approximately 7.2% a year over that time. The dividends haven't grown at precisely 7.2% every year, but this is a useful way to average out the historical rate of growth.
A reasonable rate of dividend growth is good to see, but we're wary that the dividend history is not as solid as we'd like, having been cut at least once.
Dividend Growth Potential
With a relatively unstable dividend, it's even more important to evaluate if earnings per share (EPS) are growing - it's not worth taking the risk on a dividend getting cut, unless you might be rewarded with larger dividends in future. Over the past five years, it looks as though Johnson Controls International's EPS have declined at around 8.0% a year. Declining earnings per share over a number of years is not a great sign for the dividend investor. Without some improvement, this does not bode well for the long term value of a company's dividend.
To summarise, shareholders should always check that Johnson Controls International's dividends are affordable, that its dividend payments are relatively stable, and that it has decent prospects for growing its earnings and dividend. First, the company has a payout ratio that was within an average range for most dividend stocks, but it paid out virtually all of its generated cash flow. Second, earnings per share have been in decline, and its dividend has been cut at least once in the past. There are a few too many issues for us to get comfortable with Johnson Controls International from a dividend perspective. Businesses can change, but we would struggle to identify why an investor should rely on this stock for their income.
Without at least some growth in earnings per share over time, the dividend will eventually come under pressure either from costs or inflation. Businesses can change though, and we think it would make sense to see what analysts are forecasting for the company.
We have also put together a list of global stocks with a market capitalisation above $1bn and yielding more 3%.
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