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What’s next for the Vodafone share price and its 5.5% yield?

The Vodafone (LSE: VOD) share price hasn’t been a particularly exciting investment to own in 2019. Indeed, including dividends paid out to investors, shares in the telecommunications giant have yielded a total return of 4.6% year-to-date compared to a gain of 12.8% for the FTSE 100.

Over the past 12 months, the company has underperformed the UK’s leading blue-chip index by 7.6%, including dividends. But despite this, I think Vodafone’s income credentials could make it a great addition to your portfolio.

Slow and steady

Vodafone is one of the largest telecoms companies in the world and, as a result, it’s growth is a constraining factor on the group’s growth. You’re not going to see the stock report 20% or 30% earnings growth in a single year, for example.

However, what the stock does offer is a level of safety. Vodafone is one of the top dividend shares in the UK. The company’s commitment to dividends has helped it stand out. Over the past decade, the stock has produced an annual return of 6.5%, including dividends. 

I think this trend is set to continue. At the time of writing, shares in the business support a dividend yield of 5.5% and, while the group does have quite a lot of debt to deal with, management seems to be committed to maintaining this distribution.

Debt concerns 

In the past, I’ve expressed concern about the level of debt on Vodafone’s balance sheet. I’ve also said this borrowing could weigh on the company’s dividend growth. I continue to believe that Vodafone has a debt problem, but management seems to have the issue under control

Cutting the group’s dividend by 40% at the beginning of May was, in my opinion, the right thing to do, even though it eliminated the company’s 20-year history of dividend increases. 

Still, the dividend production will free up billions in additional cash flow every year, which can be used to reduce debt along with the company’s assets sales. 

During its financial year to the end of March 2019, Vodafone generated around €5bn in free cash flow. The dividend payout consumed €4bn of this. A 40% reduction on this figure should free up €1.6bn per annum for paying down debt.

That’s excluding the additional cash flow Vodafone will be able to produce from its newly acquired Liberty assets in Europe and the cash received from the sale of its mobile tower business. 

Cash cow

Vodafone is a lumbering giant, but it’s also a cash cow. While I’m not expecting the company to report explosive earnings growth, its strong cash generation leads me to conclude its dividend is sustainable at the lower level.

With this being the case, I think if you’re looking for a trustworthy dividend stock to add to your portfolio, then Vodafone could be a great candidate. Its dividend yield of 5.5% is currently above the FTSE 100 average of 4.5% and, as explained above, the distribution is well covered by free cash flow generated from operations. 

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Rupert Hargreaves owns no share mentioned. The Motley Fool UK has no position in any of the shares mentioned. Views expressed on the companies mentioned in this article are those of the writer and therefore may differ from the official recommendations we make in our subscription services such as Share Advisor, Hidden Winners and Pro. Here at The Motley Fool we believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.