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Should You Buy Evolution Petroleum Corporation (NYSEMKT:EPM) For Its Dividend?

Simply Wall St

Is Evolution Petroleum Corporation (NYSEMKT:EPM) a good dividend stock? How can we tell? Dividend paying companies with growing earnings can be highly rewarding in the long term. Unfortunately, it's common for investors to be enticed in by the seemingly attractive yield, and lose money when the company has to cut its dividend payments.

In this case, Evolution Petroleum likely looks attractive to dividend investors, given its 7.1% dividend yield and six-year payment history. It sure looks interesting on these metrics - but there's always more to the story . There are a few simple ways to reduce the risks of buying Evolution Petroleum for its dividend, and we'll go through these below.

Explore this interactive chart for our latest analysis on Evolution Petroleum!

AMEX:EPM Historical Dividend Yield, October 3rd 2019

Payout ratios

Companies (usually) pay dividends out of their earnings. If a company is paying more than it earns, the dividend might have to be cut. 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. Looking at the data, we can see that 86% of Evolution Petroleum's profits were paid out as dividends in the last 12 months. It's paying out most of its earnings, which limits the amount that can be reinvested in the business. This may indicate limited need for further capital within the business, or highlight a commitment to paying a dividend.

Another important check we do is to see if the free cash flow generated is sufficient to pay the dividend. Evolution Petroleum paid out 77% of its cash flow last year. This may be sustainable but it does not leave much of a buffer for unexpected circumstances. It's positive to see that Evolution Petroleum's dividend is covered by both profits and cash flow, since this is generally a sign that the dividend is sustainable, and a lower payout ratio usually suggests a greater margin of safety before the dividend gets cut.

While the above analysis focuses on dividends relative to a company's earnings, we do note Evolution Petroleum's strong net cash position, which will let it pay larger dividends for a time, should it choose.

We update our data on Evolution Petroleum every 24 hours, so you can always get our latest analysis of its financial health, here.

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. Looking at the data, we can see that Evolution Petroleum has been paying a dividend for the past six years. It's good to see that Evolution Petroleum has been paying a dividend for a number of years. However, the dividend has been cut at least once in the past, and we're concerned that what has been cut once, could be cut again. Its most recent annual dividend was US$0.40 per share, effectively flat on its first payment six years ago.

It's good to see some dividend growth, but the dividend has been cut at least once, and the size of the cut would eliminate most of the growth, anyway. We're not that enthused by this.

Dividend Growth Potential

Given that the dividend has been cut in the past, we need to check if earnings are growing and if that might lead to stronger dividends in the future. Strong earnings per share (EPS) growth might encourage our interest in the company despite fluctuating dividends, which is why it's great to see Evolution Petroleum has grown its earnings per share at 37% per annum over the past five years. A majority of profits are being paid out as dividends, which raises the question of what happens to the current dividend if earnings decline. However, the rapid growth in earnings may indicate that is less of a risk.

Conclusion

When we look at a dividend stock, we need to form a judgement on whether the dividend will grow, if the company is able to maintain it in a wide range of economic circumstances, and if the dividend payout is sustainable. Evolution Petroleum's is paying out more than half its income as dividends, but at least the dividend is covered by both reported earnings and cashflow. We were also glad to see it growing earnings, but it was concerning to see the dividend has been cut at least once in the past. While we're not hugely bearish on it, overall we think there are potentially better dividend stocks than Evolution Petroleum out there.

Companies that are growing earnings tend to be the best dividend stocks over the long term. See what the 3 analysts we track are forecasting for Evolution Petroleum for free with public analyst estimates for the company.

If you are a dividend investor, you might also want to look at our curated list of dividend stocks yielding above 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.