I was just going over some of my sector-based watch lists and was struck by the wide variety of dividend payout ratio targets that have been set by companies. This got me thinking about how often investors, and specifically dividend investors, use payout ratio as an initial screening tool for finding potential investments.
Not only do payout ratios vary significantly from sector to sector, but they also can vary significantly between companies operating in similar businesses. For example, it is quite common for utility companies to pay out more than 50% of their earnings in dividends, as they operate in generally stable businesses that have predictable earnings. However, when looking at my 30 stock utility watch list, there is a range of targeted payout ratios from 40-75%, with UGI Corporation $UGI on the low end and Dominion Resources $D at the top.