The payout ratio, which shows dividends as a percentage of earnings, is a key indicator of a company's ability to maintain its dividend. A high payout ratio--one that's more than 70%, for example--is normal for a high-yield company, but one that is rising could be a problem. An increasing payout means that unless the firm can boost earnings, dividends will eventually hit a ceiling or even decline.
Philip Morris' payout ratio has been relatively stable, staying above 50% over the past five years. In 1998, however, it spiked upward above 70% as the company's earnings dipped. Such spikes can be a cause for concern if the ratio remains high, but Philip Morris' payout ratio has since returned to its normal level.
Are the Company's Sales and Earnings in Line and Stable? >>