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It is quite common for a major financial website to post a link of "dividend darlings". A dividend darling list typically involves a group of companies that have a strong history of paying increasing dividends over their lifespan. If you look on Forbes, Investopedia or Seeking Alpha you will see lists containing some chosen companies.

This article will include a "dividend darling" list that is exclusively focused on BDCR-followed companies. Not only will the current dividend high-rollers be highlighted, but I will rank the companies based on history and dividend coverage. All of the information gathered is available on the SEC website and/or your favorite financial website (Yahoo, Google, DailyFinance, etc). I want to reward companies that have been around for awhile and ding those that are not paying and covering their dividends. This means that a company like American Capital (NASDAQ:ACAS), which was once the top of the heap in terms of dividend payers, will now be more towards the bottom of the list.

Below is the criteria:

  1. Is the company currently paying a dividend? I am penalizing a company that does not pay a regular dividend. I know owning ACAS over the past year with a 94% return would have been a far better total return, but I am looking at BDCs strictly on a yield-basis and not a total return basis for this article. 10 pts
  2. Does the company have a strong dividend history? For example, Prospect Capital Corporation (NASDAQ:PSEC) likes to publicize its history of dividend increases and consecutive dividends. One thing it fails to mention is that in May of 2010, the company slashed its dividend by 10 cents per quarter, skipped most of its June dividend and changed over to a monthly payout (which overall I believe was a good thing). This list will penalize a company for doing that. 3-6 pts (3 pts for never missing a dividend, 3 pts for never cutting a dividend)
  3. Is the dividend currently covered by net investment income? I covered this in a previous post in which I explained why I believe it matters. Below you can see the updated chart. Again, the same situation applies where I multiplied a monthly dividend payer by 3 to turn it into a quarterly dividend. 3 pts
  4. How long has the company been paying dividends? I believe companies that have successfully navigated the 2007-2009 period should receive an extra credit above those companies which may have IPO'd over the past two years. 1-2 years is 1 pt; 2-5 years is 2 pts; 5+ years is 3 pts

Given this format, the max score a company could receive is 22 (5+ years of consistent dividends covered by NII) and the minimum score is 1 (company is still in business). For the BDC-R companies, the range of scores was 21 as a max and 3 as a min.

click to enlarge image

Results

Discussion of Results

As you can see, most of the companies are in the higher range of the numbers. This is partially due to the sample selection (I do not track some of the newer BDCs at the moment) and the favorable market conditions for BDC companies.

The main negative on the scoreboard was dividend cuts. Only 5 of the companies listed here have not cut their dividend. Of those 5, PennantPark Investment Corporation (PNNT - first dividend June 2007), Compass Diversified Holdings (CODI - July 2006) and Gladstone Investment Corporation (GAIN - August 2005) have been around for awhile. Solar Capital Ltd. (SLRC - March 2010) and Horizon Technology Finance (HRZN - December 2010) are new to the world.

The other major reason for taking away points is the fact that most of the companies listed do not cover their dividend with net investment income. This means that they are either not covering their dividend or are cannibalizing their portfolio to meet payout requirements. One such company is MVC Capital (NYSE:MVC). It realized losses on portfolio companies at 23 cents per share so it could meet its dividend payment of 12 cents per share. By continuing this payout, it reduced its book NAV from 17.71 to 17.38 during the six month period ending April 30th 2011.

Only 7 out of the 26 companies are "safely" covering their dividend as of their last reporting dates, which safely means their NII is greater than or equal to their current dividend. These companies are PNNT, HTGC, Kohlberg Capital (NASDAQ:KCAP), KKR Financial Holdings (KFN), Triangle Capital (NYSE:TCAP), GLAD and MCG Capital Corporation (NASDAQ:MCGC).

The Clear Winner

PNNT (PennantPark Investment Corp) comes out ahead of the pack with a solid dividend history and good earnings numbers. It scored a 21 out of a possible 22 and the only detraction was due to the firm's lack of longevity (only paying dividends since June 2007).

The first runner up is Hercules Technology Growth Capital. There has been a fair amount of good press on HTGC this year and it appears that the company has done a good job of backing up what people are saying about it Nicholas Marshi, one of the top posters on BDC companies on Seeking Alpha, did an extensive write-up on the company in March of this year.

Surprises

Former-troubled BDC KCAP (Kohlberg Capital) is also sitting high on the list. The company was hit with a shareholder lawsuit in 2010, a changing of auditors (it switched from Deloitte to Grant Thornton) and restatement of earnings (again check the SEC website for the filings). For example, the restated as of June 30th 2009 earnings adjusted total assets down by $25m, which slashed the NAV from 11.09 to 9.73 and gave more fuel to the arguments it had with its lender BMO. It appears that the company may have weathered the storm and could be worth a deeper look into its financial statements and conference call logs.

Disappointments

At the bottom of the list is EQS. While not a BDC, EQS was a strong dividend-paying stock for 8 years and at this point it is too early to tell if the new management will be able to revitalize the company. SAR (remember GNV Investment?) is also sitting at the bottom as it has yet to show any signs of breaking out of GNV's slump.

Source: New Criteria for Ranking Dividend Darlings: A Look at BDCs