The pharmaceutical juggernaut Abbott Laboratories looks reasonably cheap these days. Its shares have been going down for the past few weeks and it's a good buying opportunity in my opinion. Here's why.
Consistent Dividend Growth
Abbott has grown dividends consistently for over 25 years. It's part of the Dividend Aristocrats index maintained by S&P. Not only that, but ABT has grown dividends an annualized 9.33% over the last 11 years. On average, the year-over-year dividend growth has also been around the same ballpark, 9.45% (the average and the annualized 11-year return can differ in case most of the growth was in one or just a few years as opposed to consistent over time. When they match, it's a sign the growth has been sustained over time).
Consistent Earnings Growth
A consistent dividend growth needs to be accompanied by a consistent earnings growth too or the dividend is not sustainable. Over the same last 11 years, ABT has had an annualized earnings growth of 9.31%, which comes in very close to its annualized dividend growth. This means that dividend growth is supported by earnings growth directly, which is a good sign. It means the company is passing through all of its extra earnings back to shareholders via dividend increases.
Some people prefer to see earnings growth slightly surpass dividend growth to be on the safe side. But by doing so, it means the company is increasing its cash reserves and I would want to understand why. It could mean an acquisition is coming up or the company is expecting to have higher expenses going forward (patent disputes, lawsuits, etc). So, higher earnings growth per se is neither good or bad, but must be understood. In the case of Abbott, for the past 11 years earnings and dividend growth have matched, which can only mean the company is growing smoothly and not becoming lopsided in anyway, neither increasing cash reserves nor depleting it, hence a very good sign in my opinion.
Consistent Sales Growth
Just because earnings growth have been consistent during this time does not necessarily mean the company is actually generating more cash since earnings can be so easily manipulated. However, 11 years is a long time, especially when the earnings can be seen in form of dividends during this time (it's a lot harder to fake real cash in your pocket than it is on an income statement). Nonetheless, let's see how Abbott fares in sales growth, which is a more direct way of assessing where growth is coming from.
For the past 10 years, sales have grown an annualized 8%. This is only slightly less than the 9% earnings growth, which indicates that for the most part sales have kept pace with earnings. It also indicates that the company has been aggressive at cutting costs at a rate of 1% per year. In the long run I'd expect earnings and dividend growth to slow down to catch up to sales growth. Still, 8% is a good growth rate to have.
Dividend Yield is Moderately High
At a price of approximately $45.50 and with an annual dividend of $1.76, ABT sports a dividend yield of 3.8%, which is pretty decent in today's market. When factoring in a 8-9% growth, it means investors can expect a return of 11-13% on their investment going forward, minus inflation and plus any share price appreciation.
Implied Price using Dividend Discount Model
Treating a share of ABT as a bond and investing in it just for the dividend using the Dividend Discount Model, I came up with a price range for ABT of between $59 and $44. This means that ABT is undervalued at the time of writing. My assumptions were a 10-11% discount and 7% dividend growth, which, given the track record of sales growth of 8% is still a little conservative.
Other things to consider before investing: why is ABT going down in the past several weeks? No single news piece accounts for this decline, but a more thorough investigation is warranted.
One a price-to-earnings basis, ABT looks fairly valued with a tailing P/E of about 15. However, its forward P/E is only 10, since ABT expects to earn between $4.54 and $4.64 per share in 2011.
All things considered, ABT looks cheap to me. I'm buying shares of Abbott (ABT) at the time of writing. Please do your own analysis before buying.
Disclosures: I own shares of ABT at the time of writing.