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What are we looking for?

Sustainable dividends from sound companies feeling the pressure of activist investors.

The screen

Activist investors are once again in the spotlight, with U.S. investment firm Elliott Management pressing Suncor Energy Inc. to boost shareholder value. Options on the table include finding a buyer for the oil giant’s network of Petro-Canada gasoline stations, although Suncor’s chief executive officer is pushing back against the proposal.

Activists typically buy into what they see as underachieving companies and push for change. That often includes demands for board seats or to jettison subsidiaries to pay for dividend hikes or share buybacks.

Whatever the outcome, activist pressure draws stock market attention to a company’s underlying value. It just as often boosts dividend sustainability.

Our search started with a list of corporations now the target of investor activism but with already-strong prospects. We then applied our TSI Dividend Sustainability Rating System to a short list of income payers. It awards points to a stock based on key factors:

  • One point for five years of continuous dividend payments – two points for more than five;
  • two points if it has raised the payment in the past five years;
  • one point for management’s commitment to dividends;
  • one point for operating in non-cyclical industries;
  • one point for limited exposure to foreign currency rates and freedom from political interference;
  • two points for a strong balance sheet, including manageable debt and adequate cash;
  • two points for a long-term record of positive earnings and cash flow to cover dividends;
  • one point if the company’s an industry leader.

Companies with 10 to 12 points have the most secure dividends, or the highest sustainability. Those with seven to nine points have above average sustainability; average sustainability, four to six points; and below average sustainability, one to three points.

More about TSI Network

TSI Network is the online home of The Successful Investor Inc. – the group of widely followed Canadian investment newsletters by editor and publisher Pat McKeough. They include our award-winning flagship newsletter, The Successful Investor, and the TSI Dividend Advisor. TSI Network is also affiliated with Successful Investor Wealth Management.

What we found

Six companies that could reliable dividends

Ranking*CompanyTickerDiv. Sustain. RatingPointsDiv. Yld. (%)Mkt. Cap. ($ Bil.)**1Y Ttl. Rtn. (%) Recent Price ($)**
1Suncor Energy Inc.SU-TAbove Average84.
2Hasbro Inc.HAS-QAbove Average83.212.4-10.987.59
3Dana Inc.DAN-NAverage62.82.1-45.014.32
4Huntsman Corp.HUN-NAverage62.57.19.633.99
5Cracker Barrel Old CountryCBRL-QAverage55.02.5-33.3104.02
6Harley-Davidson Inc.HOG-NAverage51.85.5-24.535.81

Source: Dividend Advisor

*Ranking is determined by TSI Dividend Sustainability Score. Where overall points are the same, analysts considered P/E, dividend yield and industry outlook to decide final placements. **Share price and market cap are in native currency.

Our TSI Dividend Sustainability Rating System generated six stocks. Like Suncor Energy Inc., U.S. motorcycle maker Harley-Davidson Inc., headquartered in Milwaukee, Wis., faces its own activist pressure. Prominent activist hedge fund Starboard Value recently failed to get specialty chemicals maker Huntsman Corp., based in Texas, to give it seats on its board to better influence decision-making. Still, it should spur positive changes at Huntsman. Headquartered in Tennessee, Cracker Barrel Old Country Store Inc. has attracted Biglari Capital Corp. The activist investor wants the casual-dining chain to focus on improving the performance of its existing locations rather than opening new ones. Billionaire activist investor Carl Icahn is targeting Ohio-based auto-parts maker Dana Inc. Mr. Icahn got two directors appointed to Dana’s board and has a long history of investing in auto-related firms to push for greater efficiency. And finally, Pawtucket, R.I.’s Hasbro Inc. now has two activists agitating for a boost to shareholder value.

We advise investors to do additional research on any investments we identify here.

Scott Clayton, MBA, is senior analyst for TSI Network and associate editor of TSI Dividend Advisor.

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