Why American Water Works Dividend Hikes Should Continue for Years

American Water Works Co. Inc. (NYSE: AWK) is at it again, raising its dividend for investors. There is a reason that 24/7 Wall St. still believes that this water utility is the best in class of all U.S. water stocks today, just like there is a reason that this was a stock that should be held for the next decade. What investors will care about the most here is that this dividend hike trend should continue in the years ahead as well.

The largest water utility in America announced on Tuesday that its board of directors has decided to increase its quarterly cash dividend payment to $0.34 per share from a prior payout of $0.31.

Investors love dividends in general, but what investors really love to see is companies raising their dividends each year. Well, it turns out that American Water Works has now increased its dividend every year since its IPO in April 2008.

The company noted that the new payout rate is consistent with its dividend practice, linking the dividend growth to earnings per share growth. American Water Works has targeted a payout ratio to between 50% and 60% of net income.

24/7 Wall St. has projected that American Water Works should be able to continue with dividend hikes well into the future.

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Here are some analyst views, and even the less optimistic calls support future dividend hikes.

Merrill Lynch has a Buy rating and a $61 price target. The firm is targeting a low-50% payout rate, and it is modeling the dividend to grow to $1.57 per share in 2017 — after $1.44 in 2016 and $1.32 in 2015. Note that the $1.36 payout targeted by American Water Works is slightly better than what Merrill Lynch was calling for. Of the two dozen or so utilities that Merrill lynch has modeled for dividend growth ahead, the firm expects that American Water Works’ 9% annualized dividend growth will be the third highest of the group.

Credit Suisse has only a Neutral rating, but it has estimates for 2017 of $3.02 in earnings per share.

Wells Fargo has a Market Perform rating, but the firm believes that American Water Works is the premier name within the water utility space. The firm also considers it to be a core water utility holding.

The increased dividend will be payable on June 1, 2015, to all shareholders of record as of May 11, 2015. Susan Story, president and CEO of American Water, said:

American Water continues our commitment to pay dividends that are aligned with our financial performance, and to strike the right balance between increased dividend payouts to shareholders and continued proactive investment in our systems on behalf of our customers.

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The water utility’s shares were up 0.9% at $55.10 in midday trading on Tuesday. Its 52-week range is $45.43 to $57.48, and the consensus analyst price target is $58.42.