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Four candidates based on the following criteria, have been picked and examined thoroughly below. These are not absolute rules but suggestions to get the novice investor started. The criteria can be adjusted to suit your own specific style of trading. A lot of key ratios will be used in this article and it would be good for investors to get a handle on some of the more important key ratios listed below.

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 - Showdown: General Electric Vs. Honeywell

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.

Free cash flow yield is obtained by dividing free cash flow per share by the current price of each share. Generally lower ratios are associated with an unattractive investment and vice versa. Free cash flow takes into account capital expenditures and other ongoing costs associated with the day to day to functions of the business. In our view, free cash flow yield is a better valuation metric then earnings yield because of the above factors.

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 expenditure, 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.

Cash ratio is the ratio of the company's total cash and cash equivalents to its current liabilities; this ratio is used as a measure of a company's liquidity. It allows investors to determine how fast the company would be able to pay its short term debts if push came to shove. Higher numbers are better because it makes it easier for a company to ask for new loans, increase in credit lines, etc.

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 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 -

Levered free cash flow is the amount of cash available to stock holders after interest payments on debt are made. A company with a small amount of debt will only have to spend a modest amount of money on interest payments, which in turn means that there is more money to send to shareholders in the form of dividends and vice versa. (See article Frontier Bulls: Leverage Your Position For Almost Free)

Company: General Mills (GIS)

Levered Free Cash Flow = 1.25B

Brief Overview

  1. Percentage Held by Insiders = 0.26
  2. Number of Institutional Sellers 12 Weeks = 2
  3. Relative Strength 52 weeks = 69
  4. Cash Flow 5-year Average = 2.84
  5. Profit Margin = 9.63
  6. Operating Margin = 15.78
  7. Quarterly Revenue Growth = 13%
  8. Quarterly Earnings Growth = - 2.00%
  9. Operating Cash Flow = 1.94B
  10. Beta = 0.04
  11. Percentage Held by Institutions = 70%
  12. Short Percentage of Float = 1.3

Growth

  1. Net Income ($mil) 12/2011 = 1798
  2. Net Income ($mil) 12/2010 = 1531
  3. EBITDA ($mil) 12/2011 = 3247
  4. EBITDA ($mil) 12/2010 = 3063
  5. Net Income Reported Quarterly ($mil) = 392
  6. Cash Flow ($/share) 12/2011 = 3.32
  7. Cash Flow ($/share) 12/2010 = 3.05
  8. Sales ($mil) 12/2011 = 14880
  9. Sales ($mil) 12/2010 = 14797
  10. Annual EPS before NRI 12/2008 = 1.76
  11. Annual EPS before NRI 12/2009 = 1.99
  12. Annual EPS before NRI 12/2010 = 2.3
  13. Annual EPS before NRI 12/2011 = 2.48

Dividend history

  1. Dividend Yield = 3.22
  2. Dividend Yield 5 Year Average =2.8%
  3. Dividend 5 year Growth 12/2011 = 10.73

Dividend sustainability

  1. Payout Ratio =51%
  2. Payout Ratio 5 Year Average 12/2011 = 0.46

Performance

  1. Next 3-5 Year Estimate EPS Growth rate = 7.33
  2. ROE 5 Year Average 12/2011 = 24.71
  3. Current Ratio = 1.00
  4. Current Ratio 5 Year Average = 0.9
  5. Quick Ratio = 0.63
  6. Cash Ratio = 0.31
  7. Interest Coverage Quarterly = 6.97

Company: Bank Montreal (BMO)

Brief Overview

  1. Percentage Held by Insiders = 1
  2. Relative Strength 52 weeks = 47
  3. Cash Flow 5-year Average = 5.13
  4. Profit Margin = 2.61
  5. Operating Margin = 3.6
  6. Quarterly Revenue Growth = 24
  7. Quarterly Earnings Growth = 27
  8. Operating Cash Flow = 13.44B
  9. Beta = 1.14

Growth

  1. Net Income ($mil) 12/2011 = 3312
  2. Net Income ($mil) 12/2010 = 2707
  3. Net Income ($mil) 12/2009 = 1534
  4. EBITDA ($mil) 12/2011 = 6070
  5. EBITDA ($mil) 12/2010 = 4547
  6. EBITDA ($mil) 12/2009 = 3017
  7. Net Income Reported Quarterly ($mil) = 994
  8. Cash Flow ($/share) 12/2011 = 5.91
  9. Cash Flow ($/share) 12/2010 = 5.4
  10. Cash Flow ($/share) 12/2009 = 3.75
  11. Sales ($mil) 12/2011 = 17294
  12. Sales ($mil) 12/2010 = 15371
  13. Sales ($mil) 12/2009 = 14982
  14. Annual EPS before NRI 12/2007 = 5.17
  15. Annual EPS before NRI 12/2008 = 4.37
  16. Annual EPS before NRI 12/2009 = 2.86
  17. Annual EPS before NRI 12/2010 = 4.73
  18. Annual EPS before NRI 12/2011 = 5.19

Dividend history

  1. Dividend Yield = 5.45
  2. Dividend Yield 5 Year Average = 5.20
  3. Dividend 5 year Growth = 5.74

Dividend sustainability

  1. Payout Ratio 09/2011 = 0.51
  2. Payout Ratio 5 Year Average 12/2011 = 0.59

Performance

  1. Next 3-5 Year Estimate EPS Growth rate = 10
  2. 5 Year History EPS Growth 12/2011 = 2.83
  3. ROE 5 Year Average 12/2011 = 14.46
  4. ROE 5 Year Average 09/2011 = 14.46
  5. Return on Investment 12/2011 = 10.69
  6. Debt/Total Cap 5 Year Average 12/2011 = 19.24
  7. Current Ratio 12/2011 = 1.02
  8. Current Ratio 5 Year Average = 0.95
  9. Quick Ratio = 0.94
  10. Cash Ratio = 0.47
  11. Interest Coverage Quarterly = 3.14

Company: Veolia Environ (VE)

Levered Free Cash Flow = -1.30B

Brief Overview

  1. Percentage Held by Insiders = 1
  2. Relative Strength 52 weeks = 15
  3. Cash Flow 5-year Average = 8.38
  4. Profit Margin = - 1.65
  5. Operating Margin = 4.93
  6. Quarterly Revenue Growth = -8.00
  7. Operating Cash Flow = 3.66B
  8. Beta = 2

Growth

  1. Net Income ($mil) 12/2011 = -441
  2. Net Income ($mil) 12/2010 = 1157
  3. Net Income ($mil) 12/2009 = 1174
  4. EBITDA ($mil) 12/2011 = 4263
  5. EBITDA ($mil) 12/2010 = 4163
  6. EBITDA ($mil) 12/2009 = 4690
  7. Cash Flow ($/share) 12/2011 = 7.01
  8. Cash Flow ($/share) 12/2010 = 6.75
  9. Cash Flow ($/share) 12/2009 = 8.09
  10. Sales ($mil) 12/2011 = 39855
  11. Sales ($mil) 12/2010 = 48306
  12. Sales ($mil) 12/2009 = 48199
  13. Annual EPS before NRI 12/2007 = 4.03
  14. Annual EPS before NRI 12/2008 = 2.17
  15. Annual EPS before NRI 12/2009 = 1.86
  16. Annual EPS before NRI 12/2010 = 1.72
  17. Annual EPS before NRI 12/2011 = -1.32

Dividend history

  1. Dividend Yield = 6.8
  2. Dividend Yield 5 Year Average 12/2011 = 6.3
  3. Dividend 5 year Growth 12/2011 = 0.35

Performance

  1. Current Ratio 12/2011 = 1.10
  2. Current Ratio 5 Year Average = 1.08
  3. Quick Ratio = 1.06
  4. Cash Ratio = 0.48
  5. Interest Coverage Quarterly = 1.3

Company: Fidelity Nat Information services (FIS)

Levered Free Cash Flow = $992.91M

Brief Overview

  1. Percentage Held by Insiders = 0.93
  2. Number of Institutional Sellers 12 Weeks = 3
  3. Relative Strength 52 weeks = 69
  4. Cash Flow 5-year Average = 4.1
  5. Profit Margin = 7.99
  6. Operating Margin = 19.02
  7. Quarterly Revenue Growth = 4.6%
  8. Quarterly Earnings Growth = - 6.1
  9. Operating Cash Flow = 1.12B
  10. Beta = 0.93

Growth

  1. Net Income ($mil) 12/2011 = 470
  2. Net Income ($mil) 12/2010 = 405
  3. Net Income ($mil) 12/2009 = 106
  4. EBITDA ($mil) 12/2011 = 1685
  5. EBITDA ($mil) 12/2010 = 1429
  6. EBITDA ($mil) 12/2009 = 737
  7. Net Income Reported Quarterly ($mil) = 87
  8. Cash Flow ($/share) 12/2011 = 4.58
  9. Cash Flow ($/share) 12/2010 = 4.45
  10. Cash Flow ($/share) 12/2009 = 2.23
  11. Sales ($mil) 12/2011 = 5746
  12. Sales ($mil) 12/2010 = 5270
  13. Sales ($mil) 12/2009 = 3770
  14. Annual EPS before NRI 12/2007 = 3.4
  15. Annual EPS before NRI 12/2008 = 1.49
  16. Annual EPS before NRI 12/2009 = 1.63
  17. Annual EPS before NRI 12/2010 = 2.02
  18. Annual EPS before NRI 12/2011 = 2.27

Dividend history

  1. Dividend Yield = 2.56

Dividend sustainability

  1. Payout Ratio =23%

Performance

  1. Next 3-5 Year Estimate EPS Growth rate = 12.67
  2. Current Ratio = 1.6
  3. Current Ratio 5 Year Average = 1.33
  4. Quick Ratio = 1.24
  5. Cash Ratio = 0.49
  6. Interest Coverage Quarterly = 3.51

Conclusion

Long-term investors can use strong pullbacks to slowly start deploying money into long-term investments. A great way to get into a stock at a price of your choosing is to sell puts at strikes you would not mind owning the stock at.

EPS and Price Vs industry charts obtained from zacks.com. A major portion of the historical data used in this article was obtained from zacks.com.

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: General Mills: One Of 3 Interesting Dividend Plays To Mull Over