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Atmos Energy (ATO) is a Top Dividend Stock Right Now: Should You Buy?

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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 that coveted distribution of a company's earnings paid out to shareholders, and investors often view it by its dividend yield, a metric that measures the 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

Based in Dallas, Atmos Energy (ATO - Free Report) is in the Utilities sector, and so far this year, shares have seen a price change of 13.88%. The natural gas utility is paying out a dividend of $0.52 per share at the moment, with a dividend yield of 2.15% compared to the Utility - Gas Distribution industry's yield of 2.68% and the S&P 500's yield of 1.95%.

Taking a look at the company's dividend growth, its current annualized dividend of $2.10 is up 8.2% 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 6.81%. 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%. This means it paid out 48% of its trailing 12-month EPS as dividend.

ATO is expecting earnings to expand this fiscal year as well. The Zacks Consensus Estimate for 2018 is $4.27 per share, with earnings expected to increase 6.75% from the year ago period.

Bottom Line

Investors like dividends for a variety of different reasons, from tax advantages and decreasing overall portfolio risk to considerably improving stock investing profits. It's important to keep in mind that not all companies provide 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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