IBM Dividend Looks Imminent, but Will It Be Enough for Investors?

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Will investors ever get excited about International Business Machines Corp. (NYSE: IBM) ever again? This may seem hard to imagine, but IBM was looking as though it was set to be a great Dow stock again during recent months. Then its first-quarter earnings tempered those big hopes.

Now investors will have to decide whether an expected dividend hike entices more of them into the IBM hope.

According to a report from Wells Fargo, IBM shareholders should look for a dividend hike on Tuesday, April 25. According to Maynard Um, investors should expect a $0.10 increase to $1.50 per share. This would represent a 7.1% dividend hike.

Wells Fargo’s rating on IBM is Market Perform, and the firm’s set valuation range is $155 to $170 per share. That range is derived from roughly 12 times the firm’s expected 2017 earnings per share target of $13.81. While the rating is unenthusiastic, Um did note that he sees upside potential if IBM generates higher earnings per share growth. And he sees IBM’s negative risks as the potential impact from a weaker economy and execution risks.

While IBM is transforming its business model to higher-value segments and is taking the correct strategic steps, Wells Fargo believes that IBM’s transition likely will take some time.

Um’s note addressed the expected dividend hike:

IBM is set to update its dividend tomorrow and we expect an increase to $1.50/share from $1.40 share (up 7.1%) and in line with Street Consensus. The $0.10 increase would be consistent with the $0.10 increase in April 2016 but lower than the $0.20 increase in 2015 and $0.15 in 2014. From an absolute dollar perspective, this would signify an increase of roughly $291 million vs an average increase over the last five years of roughly $357 million (or an average of $288 million excluding the large increase in 2015) and up 5.5% vs the last five year average of 8.7% (7.2% excluding 2015). We estimate IBM would have a dividend payout ratio of 42.7% in 2017 (doubled in five years from 21.4% in 2012) and a dividend yield of 3.7%. We believe IBM should be able to support a $0.10 increase based on our current forecasts and given the dividend yield (absent a change in our forecasts) think shares may stay largely range bound.

Where this dividend projection gets interesting is looking backward and forward. A 7.1% dividend hike just might not look that impressive compared to years past. Here is how much IBM’s recent dividend hikes have been:

  • 7.7% in 2016 (to $1.40/quarter)
  • 18.2% in 2015 (to $1.30/quarter)
  • 15.8% in 2014 (to $1.10/quarter)
  • 11.8% in 2013 (to $0.95/quarter)
  • 13.3% in 2012 (to $0.85/quarter)
  • 15.4% in 2011 (to $0.75/quarter)
  • And 18.2% in 2010 (to $0.65/quarter)

Thomson Reuters projects that analysts see a consensus dividend hike of 5.2% in 2017, 5.1% in 2018 and 4.8% in 2019. That compares with adjusted earnings per share growth of 0.9% in 2017, 1.8% in 2018 and 4.1% in 2019.

IBM shares were up 0.4% at $160.98 on Monday in late-morning trading. Its 52-week range is $142.50 to $182.79. The consensus analyst target price from Thomson Reuters has drifted lower since earnings, down to $166.63. That target is still higher than earlier in 2017, but it had been drifting higher through of 2017 rather than contracting. That target was just above $170 as recently as April 3, 2017.

One more consideration is that IBM’s dividend already now yields 3.47%, even without a payout hike. That ranks as the sixth highest on the Dow Jones Industrial Average, behind Cisco’s 3.53% and Exxon Mobil’s 3.72%. If IBM’s dividend hike matches the Wells Fargo estimate, and if its share price were to remain static, IBM’s new dividend yield for new investors would jump to 3.72%, a tie for the fourth highest Dow dividend.

A 7.1% dividend hike would be a tad better than what the year-end consensus might indicate, but it would also be lower than in recent years. Stay tuned.