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I believe that all wisdom consists in caring immensely for a few right things, and not caring a straw about the rest.

John Buchan

Only stocks that met the following criteria were included in this list. Novice investors would be wise to focus on the following criteria instead of obsessing on the yield factor only. High yields are generally not associated with safe long-term investors, and unusually high yields are usually a sign that all is not well with the company.

  1. Net income should be trending upwards for the past 3 years.
  2. Cash flow per share should be rising for the past 3 years.
  3. EPS has to be trending upwards for the past 3 years.
  4. Sales should be trending upwards for the past 3 years.
  5. In general the payout ratio should be below 100%.
  6. A yield of 4% or higher.
  7. Interest coverage of 6 or an a 3-5 year projected EPS growth rate of at least 5%.
  8. If the company has a positive levered free cash flow, it should be viewed as "icing on the cake."

Many key ratios will be covered in this article and investors would do well to get a handle on some of the more important ones which are dealt with below.

Long-term debt-to-equity ratio is the total long term debt divided by the total equity. The amount of long-term debt a company carries on its balance sheet is very important for it indicates the amount of money a company owes that it doesn't expect to pay off in the next year. A balance sheet that illustrates that long term debt has been decreasing for a few years is a sign that the company is doing well. When debt levels fall, and cash levels increase, the balance sheet is said to be improving and vice versa. If a company has too much debt on its books, it could end up being overwhelmed with interest payments and risk having too little working capital which could in the worst case scenario lead to bankruptcy.

Operating cash flow is generally a better metric than earnings per share because a company can show positive net earnings and still not be able to properly service its debt. The cash flow is what pays the bills.

The payout ratio tells us what portion of the profit is being returned to investors. A payout ratio over 100% indicates that the company is paying out more money to shareholders than they are making. This situation cannot last forever. In general if the company has a high operating cash flow and access to capital markets, they can keep this going on for a while. As companies usually only pay the portion of the debt that is coming due and not the whole debt, this technique/trick can technically be employed to maintain the dividend for some time. If the payout ratio continues to increase, the situation warrants close monitoring as this cannot last forever. If your tolerance for risk is low, look for similar companies with the same or higher yields, but with lower payout ratios. Individuals searching for other ideas might find this article to be of interest - 5 Dividend Candidates To Reflect On.

Current Ratio is obtained by dividing the current assets by current liabilities. This ratio allows you to see if the company can pay its current debts without potentially jeopardizing future earnings. Ideally the company should have a ratio of 1 or higher.

Price to free cash flow is obtained by dividing the share price by free cash flow per share. Higher ratios are associated with more expensive companies and vice versa. Lower ratios are generally more attractive. If a company generated $400 million in cash flow and then spent $100 million on capital expenditures, then its free cash flow is $300 million. If the share price is $100 and the free cash flow per share is $5, then the company trades at 20 times-free cash flow. This ratio is also useful because it can be used as a comparison to the average within the industry. This gives you an idea of how the company you are interested in holds up to the other companies within the industry.

Interest coverage is usually calculated by dividing the earnings before interest and taxes for a period of one year by the interest expenses for the same time period. This ratio informs you of a company's ability to make its interest payments on its outstanding debt. Lower interest coverage ratios indicate that there is a larger debt burden on the company and vice versa. For example if a company has an interest ratio of 11.8, this means that it covers interest expenses 11.8 times with operating profits.

Price to tangible book is obtained by dividing share price by tangible book value per share. The ratio gives investors some idea of whether they are paying too much for what would be left over if the company were to declare bankruptcy immediately. In general stocks that trade at a higher price to tangible book value could leave investors facing a great percentage per share loss than those that trade at lower ratios. The price to tangible book value is theoretically the lowest possible price the stock would trade to. Additional key metrics are addressed in this article BBT Corp. Our Play Of Choice Among Financials.

Company: Leggett & Platt (LEG)

Levered Free Cash Flow = $240 million

Basic Key ratios

  1. Percentage Held by Insiders = 2.21
  2. Number of Institutional Sellers 12 Weeks = 8
  3. Relative Strength 52 weeks = 57
  4. Dividend 5-year Growth = 6.52
  5. Cash Flow 5 -year Average = 2.17
  6. Dividend Yield 5-Year Average = 5.18

Growth

  1. Net Income ($mil) 12/2011 = 153
  2. Net Income ($mil) 12/2010 = 177
  3. Net Income ($mil) 12/2009 = 112
  4. 12months Net Income this Quarterly/12 months Net Income 4Q's ago = -13.19
  5. Quarterly Net Income this Quarterly/same Quarter year ago = -72.29
  1. EBITDA ($mil) 12/2011 = 361
  2. EBITDA ($mil) 12/2010 = 416
  3. EBITDA ($mil) 12/2009 = 369
  4. Net Income Reported Quarterlytr ($mil) = 9
  5. Annual Net Income this Yr/ Net Income last Yr = -13.19
  6. Cash Flow ($/share) 12/2011 = 2.02
  7. Cash Flow ($/share) 12/2010 = 2.05
  8. Cash Flow ($/share) 12/2009 = 1.78
  1. Sales ($mil) 12/2011 = 3636
  2. Sales ($mil) 12/2010 = 3359
  3. Sales ($mil) 12/2009 = 3055
  1. Annual EPS before NRI 12/2007 = 1.18
  2. Annual EPS before NRI 12/2008 = 0.88
  3. Annual EPS before NRI 12/2009 = 0.86
  4. Annual EPS before NRI 12/2010 = 1.16
  5. Annual EPS before NRI 12/2011 = 1.12

Dividend history

  1. Dividend Yield = 5.15
  2. Dividend Yield 5 Year Average 12/2011 = 5.18
  3. Dividend Yield 5 Year Average 09/2011 = 5.18
  4. Annual Dividend 12/2011 = 1.1
  5. Annual Dividend 12/2010 = 1.06
  6. Forward Yield = 5.15
  7. Dividend 5 year Growth 12/2011 = 6.52

Dividend sustainability

  1. Payout Ratio 06/2011 = 0.95
  2. Payout Ratio 5 Year Average 12/2011 = 1.02
  3. Payout Ratio 5 Year Average 09/2011 = 1.02
  4. Payout Ratio 5 Year Average 06/2011 = 0.99
  5. Change in Payout Ratio = -0.07

Performance

  1. Percentage Change Price 52 Weeks Relative to S&P 500 = -7.73
  2. Next 3-5 Year Estimate EPS Growth rate = 15
  3. EPS Growth Quarterly(1)/Q(-3) = 126.67
  4. ROE 5 Year Average 12/2011 = 9.83
  5. ROE 5 Year Average 09/2011 = 9.83
  6. ROE 5 Year Average 06/2011 = 9.97
  7. Return on Investment 06/2011 = 7.73
  8. Debt/Total Cap 5 Year Average 12/2011 = 34.52
  9. Debt/Total Cap 5 Year Average 09/2011 = 34.52
  10. Debt/Total Cap 5 Year Average 06/2011 = 34.42
  1. Current Ratio 06/2011 = 2.09
  2. Current Ratio 5 Year Average = 2.36
  3. Quick Ratio = 1.34
  4. Cash Ratio = 0.48
  5. Interest Coverage Quarterly = 2.48

Valuation

  1. Book Value Quarterly = 9.4
  2. Price/ Book = 2.31
  3. Price/ Cash Flow = 10.76
  4. Price/ Sales = 0.84
  5. EV/EBITDA 12 Mo = 10.08

Company: Washington REIT (WRE)

Levered Free Cash Flow = 53.2 Million

Basic Key ratios

  1. Percentage Held by Insiders = 0.73
  2. Number of Institutional Sellers 12 Weeks = 5
  3. Relative Strength 52 weeks = 57
  4. Dividend 5-year Growth = 0.53
  5. Cash Flow 5 -year Average = 2.01
  6. Dividend Yield 5-Year Average = 5.91

Growth

  1. Net Income ($mil) 12/2011 = 105
  2. Net Income ($mil) 12/2010 = 37
  3. Net Income ($mil) 12/2009 = 41
  4. 12months Net Income this Quarterly/12 months Net Income 4Q's ago = 180.24
  5. Quarterly Net Income this Quarterly/same Quarter year ago = 189.77
  1. EBITDA ($mil) 12/2011 = 173
  2. EBITDA ($mil) 12/2010 = 174
  3. EBITDA ($mil) 12/2009 = 187
  4. Net Income Reported Quarterlytr ($mil) = 31
  5. Annual Net Income this Yr/ Net Income last Yr = 180.28
  6. Cash Flow ($/share) 12/2011 = 1.62
  7. Cash Flow ($/share) 12/2010 = 1.86
  8. Cash Flow ($/share) 12/2009 = 2.09
  1. Sales ($mil) 12/2011 = 290
  2. Sales ($mil) 12/2010 = 298
  3. Sales ($mil) 12/2009 = 307
  1. Annual EPS before NRI 12/2007 = 2.31
  2. Annual EPS before NRI 12/2008 = 2.12
  3. Annual EPS before NRI 12/2009 = 2.14
  4. Annual EPS before NRI 12/2010 = 1.96
  5. Annual EPS before NRI 12/2011 = 1.95

Dividend history

  1. Dividend Yield = 6.06
  2. Dividend Yield 5 Year Average 12/2011 = 5.91
  3. Dividend Yield 5 Year Average 09/2011 = 5.91
  4. Annual Dividend 12/2011 = 1.74
  5. Annual Dividend 12/2010 = 1.73
  6. Forward Yield = 6.06
  7. Dividend 5 year Growth 12/2011 = 0.53

Dividend sustainability

  1. Payout Ratio 06/2011 = 0.92
  2. Payout Ratio 5 Year Average 12/2011 = 0.81
  3. Payout Ratio 5 Year Average 09/2011 = 0.81
  4. Payout Ratio 5 Year Average 06/2011 = 0.81
  5. Change in Payout Ratio = 0.11

Performance

  1. Percentage Change Price 52 Weeks Relative to S&P 500 = -8.09
  2. EPS Growth Quarterly(1)/Q(-3) = -104.44
  3. ROE 5 Year Average 12/2011 = 2.52
  4. ROE 5 Year Average 09/2011 = 2.52
  5. ROE 5 Year Average 06/2011 = 2.83
  6. Return on Investment 06/2011 = -4.89
  7. Debt/Total Cap 5 Year Average 12/2011 = 17.45
  8. Debt/Total Cap 5 Year Average 09/2011 = 17.45
  9. Debt/Total Cap 5 Year Average 06/2011 = 18.31
  1. Current Ratio 06/2011 = 0.08
  2. Current Ratio 5 Year Average = 0.11
  3. Quick Ratio = 0.08
  4. Cash Ratio = 0.03
  5. Interest Coverage Quarterly = N/A

Valuation

  1. Book Value Quarterly = 13.06
  2. Price/ Book = 2.19
  3. Price/ Cash Flow = 17.69
  4. Price/ Sales = 6.17
  5. EV/EBITDA 12 Mo = 11.33

Company: Mercury General Cp (MCY)

Levered Free Cash Flow = $868.48M

Basic Key ratios

  1. Percentage Held by Insiders = 34.7
  2. Market Cap ($mil) = 2420

Growth

  1. Net Income ($mil) 12/2011 = 191
  2. Net Income ($mil) 12/2010 = 152
  3. Net Income ($mil) 12/2009 = 403
  4. 12months Net Income this Quarterly/12 months Net Income 4Q's ago = 25.6
  5. Quarterly Net Income this Quarterly/same Quarter year ago = 436.06
  1. EBITDA ($mil) 12/2011 = 296
  2. EBITDA ($mil) 12/2010 = 231
  3. EBITDA ($mil) 12/2009 = 621
  4. Net Income Reported Quarterlytr ($mil) = 79
  5. Annual Net Income this Yr/ Net Income last Yr = 25.61
  6. Cash Flow ($/share) 12/2011 = 3.62
  7. Cash Flow ($/share) 12/2010 = 2.86
  8. Cash Flow ($/share) 12/2009 = 4.02
  1. Sales ($mil) 12/2011 = 2777
  2. Sales ($mil) 12/2010 = 2776
  3. Sales ($mil) 12/2009 = 3121
  1. Annual EPS before NRI 12/2007 = 4.09
  2. Annual EPS before NRI 12/2008 = 2.12
  3. Annual EPS before NRI 12/2009 = 3.23
  4. Annual EPS before NRI 12/2010 = 2.1
  5. Annual EPS before NRI 12/2011 = 2.79

Dividend history

  1. Dividend Yield = 5.5
  2. Annual Dividend 12/2011 = 2.41
  3. Annual Dividend 12/2010 = 2.37
  4. Forward Yield = 5.53
  5. Dividend 5 year Growth = 15.2%

Dividend sustainability

  1. Payout Ratio 06/2011 = 0.88
  2. Payout Ratio 5 Year Average 06/2011 = 0.86
  3. Change in Payout Ratio = 0.02

Performance

  1. Percentage Change Price 52 Weeks Relative to S&P 500 = 6.16
  2. Next 3-5 Year Estimate EPS Growth rate = 2.11
  3. EPS Growth Quarterly(1)/Q(-3) = 4-193.33
  1. ROE 5 Year Average 06/2011 = 9.17
  2. Return on Investment 06/2011 = 7.53
  3. Debt/Total Cap 5 Year Average 06/2011 = 8.26
  1. Current Ratio 06/2011 = 0.41
  2. Current Ratio 5 Year Average = 0.48
  3. Quick Ratio = 0.41
  4. Cash Ratio = 0.23
  5. Interest Coverage Quarterly = 122.63

Valuation

  1. Book Value Quarterly = 33.87
  2. Price/ Book = 1.3
  3. Price/ Cash Flow = 12.18
  4. Price/ Sales = 0.87
  5. EV/EBITDA 12 Mo = 7.14

Notes

It has consecutively increased dividends for 19 years, sports a splendid interest coverage ratio of 122 and a decent yield of 5.53%.

Company: Vectren Corp (VVC)

Levered Free Cash Flow = $94.2 million

Basic Key ratios

  1. Percentage Held by Insiders = 0.71
  2. Market Cap ($mil) = 2372

Growth

  1. Net Income ($mil) 12/2011 = 142
  2. Net Income ($mil) 12/2010 = 134
  3. Net Income ($mil) 12/2009 = 133
  4. 12months Net Income this Quarterly/12 months Net Income 4Q's ago = 5.91
  5. Quarterly Net Income this Quarterly/same Quarter year ago = 2.64
  1. EBITDA ($mil) 12/2011 = 579
  2. EBITDA ($mil) 12/2010 = 542
  3. EBITDA ($mil) 12/2009 = 509
  4. Net Income Reported Quarterlytr ($mil) = 47
  5. Annual Net Income this Yr/ Net Income last Yr = 5.91
  6. Cash Flow ($/share) 12/2011 = 4.72
  7. Cash Flow ($/share) 12/2010 = 4.44
  8. Cash Flow ($/share) 12/2009 = 4.4
  1. Sales ($mil) 12/2011 = 2325
  2. Sales ($mil) 12/2010 = 2130
  3. Sales ($mil) 12/2009 = 2089
  1. Annual EPS before NRI 12/2007 = 1.96
  2. Annual EPS before NRI 12/2008 = 1.71
  3. Annual EPS before NRI 12/2009 = 1.79
  4. Annual EPS before NRI 12/2010 = 1.64
  5. Annual EPS before NRI 12/2011 = 1.73

Dividend history

  1. Dividend Yield = 4.90
  2. Dividend Yield 5 Year Average =5.10%
  3. Annual Dividend 12/2011 = 1.39
  4. Annual Dividend 12/2010 = 1.37
  5. Forward Yield = 4.84
  6. Dividend 5 year Growth =2.4%

Dividend sustainability

  1. Payout Ratio 06/2011 = 0.81
  2. Payout Ratio 5 Year Average 06/2011 = 0.78
  3. Change in Payout Ratio = 0.03

Performance

  1. Percentage Change Price 52 Weeks Relative to S&P 500 = 1.26
  2. Next 3-5 Year Estimate EPS Growth rate = 4.33
  3. EPS Growth Quarterly(1)/Q(-3) = -100
  4. ROE 5 Year Average 06/2011 = 10.19
  5. Return on Investment 06/2011 = 4.68
  6. Debt/Total Cap 5 Year Average 06/2011 = 51.13
  1. Current Ratio 06/2011 = 0.88
  2. Current Ratio 5 Year Average = 0.77
  3. Quick Ratio = 0.65
  4. Cash Ratio = 0.33
  5. Interest Coverage Quarterly = 4.04

Valuation

  1. Book Value Quarterly = 17.89
  2. Price/ Book = 1.97
  3. Price/ Cash Flow = 6.10
  4. Price/ Sales = 1.02

Notes

Net income, Cash flow per share, EBITA and sales have been trending upwards for the past few years. It has been paying dividends since 1946 and has consecutively increased them for 36 years.

Company: Bristol-Myers (BMY)

Levered Free Cash Flow = $5.30B

Basic Key ratios

  1. Percentage Held by Insiders = 0.64
  2. Market Cap ($mil) = 56819

Growth

  1. Net Income ($mil) 12/2011 = 3709
  2. Net Income ($mil) 12/2010 = 3102
  3. Net Income ($mil) 12/2009 = 10612
  4. 12 months Net Income this Quarterly/12 months Net Income 4Q's ago = 19.57
  5. Quarterly Net Income this Quarterly/same Quarter year ago = 76.4
  1. EBITDA ($mil) 12/2011 = 7782
  2. EBITDA ($mil) 12/2010 = 6815
  3. EBITDA ($mil) 12/2009 = 6309
  4. Net Income Reported Quarterlytr ($mil) = 852
  5. Annual Net Income this Yr/ Net Income last Yr = 19.57
  6. Cash Flow ($/share) 12/2011 = 2.79
  7. Cash Flow ($/share) 12/2010 = 2.61
  8. Cash Flow ($/share) 12/2009 = 2.21
  1. Sales ($mil) 12/2011 = 21244
  2. Sales ($mil) 12/2010 = 19484
  3. Sales ($mil) 12/2009 = 18808
  1. Annual EPS before NRI 12/2007 = 1.38
  2. Annual EPS before NRI 12/2008 = 1.74
  3. Annual EPS before NRI 12/2009 = 1.85
  4. Annual EPS before NRI 12/2010 = 2.16
  5. Annual EPS before NRI 12/2011 = 2.28

Dividend history

  1. Dividend Yield = 4.00
  2. Dividend Yield 5 Year Average =4.61%
  3. Annual Dividend 12/2011 = 1.32
  4. Annual Dividend 12/2010 = 0.96
  5. Forward Yield = 4.04
  6. Dividend 5 year Growth = 0.41%

Dividend sustainability

  1. Payout Ratio 06/2011 = 0.58
  2. Payout Ratio 5 Year Average 06/2011 = 0.7
  3. Change in Payout Ratio = -0.12

Performance

  1. Percentage Change Price 52 Weeks Relative to S&P 500 = 20.21
  2. Next 3-5 Year Estimate EPS Growth rate = 1.67
  3. EPS Growth Quarterly(1)/Q(-3) = -112.77
  4. ROE 5 Year Average 06/2011 = 26.33
  5. Return on Investment 06/2011 = 18.29
  6. Debt/Total Cap 5 Year Average 06/2011 = 30.31
  1. Current Ratio 06/2011 = 1.97
  2. Current Ratio 5 Year Average = 1.9
  3. Quick Ratio = 1.79
  4. Cash Ratio = 1.31
  5. Interest Coverage = 49

Valuation

  1. Book Value Quarterly = 9.36
  2. Price/ Book = 3.6
  3. Price/ Cash Flow = 9.50
  4. Price/ Sales = 2.72
  5. EV/EBITDA 12 Mo = 6.87
  6. Price to free cash flow= 28.50

Conclusion

Long-term investors would do well to wait for a strong pullback before committing large sums of new money to this market. To open up additional streams of income, one can also sell covered calls or naked puts if you are bullish on the stock. A pullback in the 7%-12% ranges from the peak would qualify as a strong pullback.

Disclaimer

This list of stocks is meant to serve as a starting point. Please do not treat this as a buying list. It is imperative that you do your due diligence and then determine if any of the above plays meet with your risk tolerance levels. The Latin maxim caveat emptor applies - let the buyer beware.

Source: 5 Dividend Champs To Mull Over

Additional disclosure: EPS, Price, EPS surprise charts obtained from zacks.com. A major portion of the historical data used in this article was obtained from zacks.com.