Friday, November 20, 2009

Consolidated Edison (ED) Dividend Stock Analysis

Consolidated Edison, Inc. (ED), through its subsidiaries, provides electric, gas, and steam utility services in the United States. It provides electric service to approximately 3.3 million customers and gas service to approximately 1.1 million customers in New York City and Westchester County, as well as provides steam service to office buildings, apartment houses, and hospitals in parts of Manhattan.

Consolidated Edison is a dividend aristocrat as well as a component of the S&P 500 index. It has been increasing its dividends for the past 35 consecutive years. For the past decade this dividend stock has delivered an annual average total return of 6.30 % to its shareholders.

At the same time the company has managed to deliver a 0.80% average annual increase in its EPS since 1999. For the next two years analysts expect EPS to increase to $3.11 and $3.30 respectively. The main problem for utility companies is that they are very capital intensive and are highly regulated. In order for utilities companies to increase rates, they have to seek regulatory approval. In addition to that investing in such projects such as the smart grid is subsidized through federal programs, although companies like Con Ed typically put in at least a portion of the needed amount.

The return on equity has declined slightly over the past decade, although it is at 10% currently.
Annual dividend payments have increased by an average of 1.00% annually over the past 10 years, which is higher than the growth in EPS. The company has increased the amount of the stock outstanding by an average of 2.6% per year over the past decade. Despite the slow dividend growth, the company might be a good pick for investors who are seeking current retirement income.

A 1% growth in dividends translates into the dividend payment doubling almost every 72 years. If we look at historical data, going as far back as 1975, we would see that Con Edison has actually managed to double its dividend payment every eleven years on average. The current dividend payment is double what it was in 1985 however.

Over the past decade the dividend payout ratio has ranged between a low of 57% and a high of 97%. Currently the dividend payout ratio is at 69.6%. While this would be high for a company like McDonald’s (MCD) or Procter & Gamble (PG), a payout ratio of 70% is not uncommon for utilities. Utilities typically pay out a large portion of their earnings as dividends, which explains their slow dividend growth and high dividend yields. Most utilities operate as natural monopolies, which guarantee almost no competition in their specific geographic areas. It would be very costly to run two separate electrical grids, and such investment could take many decades to pay off. Thus utilities tend to generate stable earnings and revenues in any economic conditions, as people keep using water, gas and electricity in their daily lives no matter what.

I believe that Consolidated Edison is attractively valued with its low price/earnings multiple of 14, as well as an above average dividend yield at 5.60%. The high dividend payout should not be a concern because of the industry the company is in. Because of the slow dividend growth of the stock however, I would only invest in it for current income within the next decade. I do own ED mainly for diversification within the utility industry and for a current yield boost to my dividend income.

Disclosure: Long ED
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