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Should You Buy CNA Financial Corporation (NYSE:CNA) For Its Dividend?

Simply Wall St

Today we'll take a closer look at CNA Financial Corporation (NYSE:CNA) from a dividend investor's perspective. Owning a strong business and reinvesting the dividends is widely seen as an attractive way of growing your wealth. Yet sometimes, investors buy a stock for its dividend and lose money because the share price falls by more than they earned in dividend payments.

With a goodly-sized dividend yield despite a relatively short payment history, investors might be wondering if CNA Financial is a new dividend aristocrat in the making. It sure looks interesting on these metrics - but there's always more to the story . When buying stocks for their dividends, you should always run through the checks below, to see if the dividend looks sustainable.

Explore this interactive chart for our latest analysis on CNA Financial!

NYSE:CNA Historical Dividend Yield, September 26th 2019

Payout ratios

Dividends are usually paid out of company earnings. If a company is paying more than it earns, then the dividend might become unsustainable - hardly an ideal situation. As a result, we should always investigate whether a company can afford its dividend, measured as a percentage of a company's net income after tax. In the last year, CNA Financial paid out 44% of its profit as dividends. This is a medium payout level that leaves enough capital in the business to fund opportunities that might arise, while also rewarding shareholders. One of the risks is that management reinvests the retained capital poorly instead of paying a higher dividend.

Remember, you can always get a snapshot of CNA Financial's latest financial position, by checking our visualisation of its financial health.

Dividend Volatility

From the perspective of an income investor who wants to earn dividends for many years, there is not much point buying a stock if its dividend is regularly cut or is not reliable. The first recorded dividend for CNA Financial, in the last decade, was nine years ago. The dividend has been quite stable over the past nine years, which is great to see - although we usually like to see the dividend maintained for a decade before giving it full marks, though. During the past nine-year period, the first annual payment was US$0.40 in 2010, compared to US$3.40 last year. Dividends per share have grown at approximately 27% per year over this time.

CNA Financial has been growing its dividend quite rapidly, which is exciting. However, the short payment history makes us question whether this performance will persist across a full market cycle.

Dividend Growth Potential

While dividend payments have been relatively reliable, it would also be nice if earnings per share (EPS) were growing, as this is essential to maintaining the dividend's purchasing power over the long term. While there may be fluctuations in the past , CNA Financial's earnings per share have basically not grown from where they were five years ago. Over the long term, steady earnings per share is a risk as the value of the dividends can be reduced by inflation.

Conclusion

To summarise, shareholders should always check that CNA Financial's dividends are affordable, that its dividend payments are relatively stable, and that it has decent prospects for growing its earnings and dividend. We're glad to see CNA Financial has a low payout ratio, as this suggests earnings are being reinvested in the business. Earnings per share are down, and to our mind CNA Financial has not been paying a dividend long enough to demonstrate its resilience across economic cycles. While we're not hugely bearish on it, overall we think there are potentially better dividend stocks than CNA Financial out there.

Given that earnings are not growing, the dividend does not look nearly so attractive. Businesses can change though, and we think it would make sense to see what analysts are forecasting for the company.

We have also put together a list of global stocks with a market capitalisation above $1bn and yielding more 3%.

We aim to bring you long-term focused research analysis driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis may not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements or qualitative material.

If you spot an error that warrants correction, please contact the editor at editorial-team@simplywallst.com. This article by Simply Wall St is general in nature. It does not constitute a recommendation to buy or sell any stock, and does not take account of your objectives, or your financial situation. Simply Wall St has no position in the stocks mentioned. Thank you for reading.