Getting big returns from financial portfolios, whether through stocks, bonds, ETFs, other securities, or a combination of all, is an investor's dream. But for income investors, generating consistent cash flow from each of your liquid investments is your primary focus.
While cash flow can come from bond interest or interest from other types of investments, income investors hone in on 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
Atmos Energy (ATO - Free Report) is headquartered in Dallas, and is in the Utilities sector. The stock has seen a price change of 9.48% since the start of the year. The natural gas utility is paying out a dividend of $0.52 per share at the moment, with a dividend yield of 2.07% compared to the Utility - Gas Distribution industry's yield of 2.55% and the S&P 500's yield of 2.03%.
Looking at dividend growth, the company's current annualized dividend of $2.10 is up 8.2% from last year. In the past five-year period, Atmos Energy has increased its dividend 5 times on a year-over-year basis for an average annual increase of 7.54%. 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 49%. This means it paid out 49% 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 $4.32 per share, which represents a year-over-year growth rate of 8%.
Investors like dividends for a variety of different reasons, from tax advantages and decreasing overall portfolio risk to considerably improving stock investing profits. However, not all companies offer 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. 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).