Is Taiwan Semiconductor A Dividend Growth Play?

| About: Taiwan Semiconductor (TSM)

In this article, we evaluate the investment merits of Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company Ltd. (NYSE:TSM), as well as its dividend. Could this tech firm be a hidden dividend gem?

Investment Considerations

Click to enlarge

Return on Invested Capital

Taiwan Semiconductor's

Taiwan Semiconductor's dividend yield is above average, offering a 2.7% annual payout at recent price levels. Nice start. Even though we prefer yields above 3%, and don't include firms with yields below 2% in our dividend growth portfolio, there could be more than meets the eye here.

First of all, let's take a look at the firm's dividend policy:

TSMC does not pay dividends when there is no profit for a particular fiscal year, except under certain conditions specified in its Articles of Incorporation. Profits may be distributed by way of cash dividend, stock dividend, or a combination of cash and stock. The preferred method of distributing profits is by way of cash dividend. Under TSMC's Articles of Incorporation, stock dividend shall not exceed 50% of the total distribution in any given fiscal year. (Source: Company website)

That said, we think the safety of Taiwan Semiconductor's dividend is good (please see our definitions at the bottom of this article). We measure the safety of the dividend in a unique, but very straightforward fashion. As many know, earnings can fluctuate in any given year, so using the payout ratio in any given year has some limitations.

Plus, companies can often encounter unforeseen charges (read hiccups in operations), which makes earnings an even less-than-predictable measure of the safety of the dividend in any given year. 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 these cash outlays well into the future.

That has led us to develop the forward-looking Valuentum Dividend Cushion™. The measure is a ratio that sums the existing cash a company has on hand plus its expected future free cash flows over the next five years and divides that sum by future expected 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.

As income investors, however, we'd like to see a score much larger than 1 for a couple 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 Taiwan Semiconductor, this score is 2.5, revealing that on its current path the firm can cover its future dividends with net cash on hand and future free cash flow. The beauty of the Dividend Cushion is that it can be compared apples-to-apples across companies. For example, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (NYSE:WMT) scores a 1.4 on this measure. Also, for firms that have a score below 1 or that have a negative score, the risk of a dividend cut in the future is certainly elevated.

In fact, the Valuentum Dividend Cushion caught all dividend cuts in our non-financial coverage universe, except for one, which subsequently raised its dividend above pre-cut levels (meaning it shouldn't have cut it in the first place). We use our dividend cushion as a key decision component in choosing companies for addition to the portfolio of our Dividend Growth Newsletter.

Now on to the potential growth of Taiwan Semiconductor's dividend. As we mentioned above, we think the larger the "cushion", the larger capacity it has to raise the dividend. However, such dividend growth analysis is not complete until after considering management's willingness to increase the dividend. As such, we evaluate the company's historical dividend track record. If there have been no dividend cuts in 10 years, the company has a nice growth rate, and a nice dividend cushion, its future potential dividend growth would be excellent, which is the case for Taiwan Semiconductor.

And because capital preservation is also an important consideration, we assess the risk associated with the potential for capital loss (offering investors a complete picture). In Taiwan Semiconductor's case, we think the shares are fairly valued, so the risk of capital loss is medium. If we thought the shares were undervalued, the risk of capital loss would be low.

All things considered, the growth potential and safety of Taiwan Semiconductor's dividend are attractive, and the size of its yield makes the firm worth considering as a potential income play. Clearly, a very interesting company to find such dividend-growth characteristics.

Disclosure: I 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.