Lockheed Martin Boasts Impressive Cash Generation

| About: Lockheed Martin (LMT)


The evolving global security landscape dictates the need for powerful systems like the F-35 Lightning II, Littoral Combat Ship, integrated missile defense and advance satellites. Lockheed Martin is well-positioned.

Lockheed's free cash flow generating capacity is tremendous, and by comparison, it runs a rather capital-light operation.

A former unit of United Technologies, Sikorsky Aircraft, is now a part of Lockheed Martin, and while we like the transaction, credit metrics will face pressure due to increased debt.

Let's take a look at the firm's investment considerations as we attempt to uncover the drivers behind its Dividend Cushion ratio.

By The Valuentum Team

Acquisitive activity may threten the pace of Lockheed Martin's dividend growth

--> Lockheed Martin (NYSE:LMT) is a global security and aerospace company that is principally engaged in the research, design, development, manufacture, integration and sustainment of advanced technology systems, products and services.

--> The evolving global security landscape dictates the need for powerful systems like the F-35 Lightning II, Littoral Combat Ship, integrated missile defense and advanced satellites. Lockheed Martin is well-positioned to meet the needs of governments across the globe.

--> Lockheed Martin's business quality (an evaluation of our ValueCreation and ValueRisk ratings) ranks among the best of the firms in our coverage universe. The firm has been generating economic value for shareholders with relatively stable operating results for the past few years, a combination we view very positively.

--> Lockheed Martin was rather acquisitive in 2014, acquiring cyber security firm Industrial Defender, integrated system planning firm BEONTRA, and federal healthcare IT solution firm Systems Made Simple. Also in 2014, it won its largest international IT contract to date from Australia's Department of Defense.

--> The firm does business with 70 nations around the world. With a growing international backlog, it is well-positioned to achieve its goal of growing international sales over the next few years to over 20% of revenue.

Note: Lockheed Martin's dividend yield is above average, offering a 3% annual yield at recent price levels. We like this defense contractor a lot, but we haven't yet pulled the trigger. A lofty valuation and a spending spree by management are two areas we'd like to see resolved. Let's walk through Lockheed's strengths and weaknesses as it relates to its dividend payout.

Dividend Strengths

Lockheed's free cash flow generating capacity is tremendous, and by comparison, it runs a rather capital-light operation. Excluding its recent deal to scoop up Sikorsky Aircraft, net sales is expected to be roughly flat in 2016 with an operating margin in the 11%-11.5% range. Changes in US government funding and the integration of Sikorsky will impact reported results, but we remain impressed with Lockheed's cash-generating prowess. We'll be watching Lockheed's Dividend Cushion ratio closely in light of recent acquisitive activity, however.

Dividend Weaknesses

A former unit of United Technologies, Sikorsky Aircraft, is now a part of Lockheed Martin, and while we like the transaction, credit metrics will face pressure as a result of the incremental debt coming on the books. Management is still buying back stock, despite the increase in leverage, and we're not sure this is a great move, particularly in light of our estimate of the company's intrinsic value. We're expecting some big changes in Lockheed's financials in coming years. Look for the Dividend Cushion ratio to be revised lower.

From the Comments Section: How to Interpret the Dividend Cushion Ratio -- A Ranking of Risk

As for how to interpret the Dividend Cushion ratio, itself, it is a measure of financial risk to the dividend, much like a credit rating is a measure of the default risk of the entity. Said differently, a poor Dividend Cushion ratio of below 1 or negative doesn't imply the company will cut the dividend tomorrow, no more than a junk credit rating implies a company will default tomorrow. That said, the Dividend Cushion ratio does punish companies for outsize debt loads because in times of adverse conditions, entities often need to shore up cash, and that means the dividend becomes increasingly more risky.

We think investors should look at a variety of different metrics in assessing the sustainability of the dividend. Because the Dividend Cushion ratio is systematically applied across our coverage, it can be used to compare entities on an apples-to-apples basis. Dividend payers with significant free cash flow generation and substantial net cash on the balance sheet often register the highest Dividend Cushion ratios, as they should. These companies have substantial financial flexibility to keep raising the dividend.

Dividend Safety

We think the safety of Lockheed Martin's dividend is good. Please let us explain.

First, we measure the safety of the dividend in a unique but very straightforward fashion. As many know, earnings can fluctuate, so using the payout ratio in any given year has some limitations. Plus, companies can often encounter unforeseen charges, which makes earnings an even less-than-predictable measure of the safety of the dividend. We know that companies won't cut the dividend just because earnings have declined or they had a restructuring charge that put them in the red for the quarter (year). As such, we think that assessing the cash flows of a business allows us to determine whether it has the capacity to continue paying dividends well into the future.

That has led us to develop the forward-looking Dividend Cushion ratio, which we make available on our website. The measure is a ratio that sums the existing net cash a company has on hand (on its balance sheet) plus its expected future free cash flows (cash flow from operations less capital expenditures) over the next five years and divides that sum by future expected cash dividends over the same time period. Basically, if the score is above 1, the company has the capacity to pay out its expected future dividends and the expected growth in them.

As income investors, however, we'd like to see a ratio much larger than 1 for a couple of reasons: 1) the higher the ratio, the more "cushion" the company has against unexpected earnings shortfalls, and 2) the higher the ratio, the greater capacity a dividend-payer has in boosting the dividend in the future. For Lockheed Martin, this ratio is 1.4, revealing that on its current path the firm should be able to cover its future dividends and growth in them with net cash on hand and future free cash flow.

Dividend Cushion Ratio Cash Flow Bridge

The Dividend Cushion Cash Flow Bridge, shown in the graph below, illustrates the components of the Dividend Cushion ratio and highlights in detail the many drivers behind it. Lockheed Martin's Dividend Cushion Cash Flow Bridge reveals that the sum of the company's 5-year cumulative free cash flow generation, as measured by cash flow from operations less all capital spending, plus its net cash/debt position on the balance sheet, as of the last fiscal year, is greater than the sum of the next 5 years of expected cash dividends paid.

Because the Dividend Cushion ratio is forward-looking and captures the trajectory of the company's free cash flow generation and dividend growth, it reveals whether there will be a cash surplus or a cash shortfall at the end of the 5-year period, taking into consideration the leverage on the balance sheet, a key source of risk. On a fundamental basis, we believe companies that have a strong net cash position on the balance sheet and are generating a significant amount of free cash flow are better able to pay and grow their dividend over time.

Firms that are buried under a mountain of debt and do not sufficiently cover their dividend with free cash flow are more at risk of a dividend cut or a suspension of growth, all else equal, in our
opinion. Generally speaking, the greater the 'blue bar' to the right is in the positive, the more durable a company's dividend, and the greater the 'blue bar' to the right is in the negative, the less durable a company's dividend.

Dividend Cushion Ratio Deconstruction

The Dividend Cushion Ratio Deconstruction, shown in the graph below, reveals the numerator and denominator of the Dividend Cushion ratio. At the core, the larger the numerator, or the healthier a company's balance sheet and future free cash flow generation, relative to the denominator, or a company's cash dividend obligations, the more durable the dividend. In the context of the Dividend Cushion ratio, Lockheed Martin's numerator is larger than its denominator suggesting strong dividend coverage in the future. The Dividend Cushion Ratio Deconstruction image puts sources of free cash in the context of financial obligations next to expected cash dividend payments over the next 5 years on a side-by-side comparison. Because the Dividend Cushion ratio and many of its components are forward-looking, our dividend evaluation may change upon subsequent updates as future forecasts are altered to reflect new information.

Please note that to arrive at the Dividend Cushion ratio, divide the numerator by the denominator in the graph below. The difference between the numerator and denominator is the firm's "total cumulative 5-year forecasted distributable excess cash after dividends paid, ex buybacks."

Dividend Growth

Now on to the potential growth of Lockheed Martin's dividend. As we mentioned above, we think the larger the "cushion" the larger capacity the company has to raise the dividend. However, such dividend growth analysis is not complete until after considering management's willingness to increase the dividend. To do so, we evaluate the company's historical dividend track record. If there have been no dividend cuts in the past 10 years, the company has a nice dividend growth rate, and a solid Dividend Cushion ratio, we characterize its future potential dividend growth as excellent, which is the case for Lockheed Martin.

Because capital preservation is also an important consideration to any income strategy, we use our estimate of the company's fair value range to assess the risk associated with the potential for capital loss. In Lockheed Martin's case, we currently think shares are fairly valued, meaning the share price falls within our estimate of the fair value range, so the risk of capital loss is medium (our valuation analysis can be found by downloading the 16-page report on our website). If we thought the shares were undervalued, the risk of capital loss would be low.

Wrapping Things Up

Lockheed Martin is well-positioned to meet the needs of governments across the globe, and the evolving global security landscape will only increase those needs. As it relates to the firm's dividend, we love its free cash flow generating capacity and rather capital-light operation compared to peers.

Though we are fans of the firm's acquisition of Sikorsky Aircraft, it will undoubtedly pressure credit metrics due to the increase in debt, which we think should prompt management to put an end to its share buyback program. In addition to our questions of its capital management, shares are currently overpriced on the basis of our discounted cash flow model.

We'd like to see two things happen before we jump into Lockheed's shares: a lower price, and more prudent capital allocation by management. Both may not happen anytime soon.

Breakpoints: Dividend Safety. We measure the safety of a firm's dividend by adding its net cash to our forecast of its future cash flows and divide that sum by our forecast of its future dividend payments. This process results in a ratio called the Dividend Cushion. Scale: Above 2.75 = EXCELLENT; Between 1.25 and 2.75 = GOOD; Between 0.5 and 1.25 = POOR; Below 0.5 = VERY POOR.

This article or report and any links within are for information purposes only and should not be considered a solicitation to buy or sell any security. Valuentum is not responsible for any errors or omissions or for results obtained from the use of this article and accepts no liability for how readers may choose to utilize the content. Assumptions, opinions, and estimates are based on our judgment as of the date of the article and are subject to change without notice.

Disclosure: I/we have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.

I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.