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Is Southwest Gas (SWX) a Great Dividend Play?

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Whether it's through stocks, bonds, ETFs, or other types of securities, all investors love seeing their portfolios score big returns. But for income investors, generating consistent cash flow from each of your liquid investments is your primary focus.

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.

Southwest Gas in Focus

Southwest Gas (SWX - Free Report) is headquartered in Las Vegas, and is in the Utilities sector. The stock has seen a price change of 7.5% since the start of the year. Currently paying a dividend of $2.59 per share, the company has a dividend yield of 54%. In comparison, the Utility - Gas Distribution industry's yield is 2.49%, while the S&P 500's yield is 0.52%.

Taking a look at the company's dividend growth, its current annualized dividend of $2.59 is up 10.5% from last year. Southwest Gas has increased its dividend 5.10 times on a year-over-year basis over the last 5 years for an average annual increase of 5%. Any future dividend growth will depend on both earnings growth and the company's payout ratio; a payout ratio is the proportion of a firm's annual earnings per share that it pays out as a dividend. Southwest Gas's current payout ratio is -0.14%, meaning it paid out -0.14% of its trailing 12-month EPS as dividend.

Earnings growth looks solid for SWX for this fiscal year. The Zacks Consensus Estimate for 2018 is $2.08 per share, representing a year-over-year earnings growth rate of 3.82%.

Bottom Line

Investors like dividends for many reasons; they greatly improve stock investing profits, decrease overall portfolio risk, and carry tax advantages, among others. It's important to keep in mind that not all companies provide 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 must be conscious 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 SWX 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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