What Dividend Hunters Need To Know About Unilever plc

Today I am looking at whether Unilever (LSE: ULVR) (NYSE: UL.US) is an appealing pick for those seeking chunky dividend income.

Further dividend growth forecasted

Although constraints on consumers’ wallets during the past five years has seen Unilever’s earnings performance oscillate, the household goods giant has still lifted the full-year dividend at a colossal rate during the period. Indeed, the firm has raised the total payout at a compound annual growth rate of 8.4% since 2011 alone.

Growth is anticipated to slow in the medium term, however, as activity in key emerging markets dips. Still, payouts are still expected to rise at a decent clip, and City brokers have pencilled in a 3.2% increase this year to 113 euro cents. And the dividend is unileveranticipated to advance an additional 6.6% in 2015 to 120.4 cents.

These projections create dividend yields of 3.5% and 3.8% for 2014 and 2015 correspondingly, just ahead of the 3.2% forward average for the complete FTSE 100.

… but beware of emerging market slowdown

Aforementioned difficulties in developing regions are expected to result in a modest 1% earnings slide this year, though an expected recovery in the medium term will result in a robust 8% bounceback in 2015. Still, dividend coverage is anticipated to remain well below the security threshold of 2 times and above for some time, with a reading of 1.4 times enduring through to the end of next year.

And signs of slowing demand in these areas casts a cloud over earnings — and consequently dividend — forecasts over the next few years. The company reported last month that underlying sales from these regions rose 6.6% during January-March, by no means a shoddy performance but representing a vast deterioration from the 10.4% expansion reported during the corresponding 2013 period.

Meanwhile the effect of ongoing emerging market currency weakness also continues to weigh, and was a major factor behind group revenue slipping 6.9% during the first quarter to €11.4bn.

Unilever continues to roll out a broad range of product innovations across its blue ribbon brands, which includes the likes of TRESemmé shampoo through to Sure deodorant and Domestos bleach, in order to keep sales rolling across the globe.

Although current trading difficulties could weigh on dividend growth in the near term, I believe that the formidable strength and diversity of these labels should lead revenues higher once current developing region turbulence subsides. Indeed, I am convinced that a backcloth of rising population levels and improving disposal incomes in these geographies should drive sales skywards in coming years.

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Royston does not own shares in Unilever. The Motley Fool owns shares in Unilever.