Coke is one of the most, if not the most, recognized brands in the world. As a stock, The Coca-Cola Company (KO) is a blue-chip Dividend Aristocrat that has increased its dividend for 56 consecutive years. The company is A+ rated by S&P Capital IQ, offers a current dividend yield of 3.6% and a market cap of more than $184 billion. Even though nothing that I’ve said so far is likely to be news to most people, there is a reason for me mentioning these things.
Given the quality characteristics of Coca-Cola mentioned above, the company has enjoyed a legacy of being more highly valued by the market than most companies with similar fundamental growth rates. Since 1999, operating earnings growth has averaged 5.7% per annum. However, over that same timeframe, the company’s dividend growth rate has averaged 8.9%.
This discrepancy between earnings growth and dividend growth can be partially explained by a significant increase in the company’s payout ratio since 1999. Over most of that time frame, Coca-Cola was paying out approximately half of their earnings to shareholders in the form of dividends. That number ranged from a low of 45% to a high of 55%. However, starting in 2014 Coca-Cola’s dividend payout ratio increased to 60% and has continued its upward trajectory to over 77% for fiscal 2017.
On the other hand, I think investors should be careful not to assume that Coca-Cola has suddenly become more generous with their dividend income. As previously mentioned, the company has increased their dividend every year. Nevertheless, the increasing dividend payout ratio is also related to Coca-Cola generating negative earnings growth of -1% per annum since 2014.