Could ConocoPhillips (NYSE:COP) be an attractive dividend share to own for the long haul? Investors are often drawn to strong companies with the idea of reinvesting the dividends. 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.
A 2.2% yield is nothing to get excited about, but investors probably think the long payment history suggests ConocoPhillips has some staying power. The company also bought back stock during the year, equivalent to approximately 6.0% of the company's market capitalisation at the time. When buying stocks for their dividends, you should always run through the checks below, to see if the dividend looks sustainable.
Dividends are typically paid from company earnings. If a company pays more in dividends than it earned, then the dividend might become unsustainable - hardly an ideal situation. So we need to form a view on if a company's dividend is sustainable, relative to its net profit after tax. ConocoPhillips paid out 19% of its profit as dividends, over the trailing twelve month period. With a low payout ratio, it looks like the dividend is comprehensively covered by earnings.
Another important check we do is to see if the free cash flow generated is sufficient to pay the dividend. ConocoPhillips's cash payout ratio last year was 22%. Cash flows are typically lumpy, but this looks like an appropriately conservative payout. It's positive to see that ConocoPhillips'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.
We update our data on ConocoPhillips every 24 hours, so you can always get our latest analysis of its financial health, here.
One of the major risks of relying on dividend income, is the potential for a company to struggle financially and cut its dividend. Not only is your income cut, but the value of your investment declines as well - nasty. ConocoPhillips has been paying dividends for a long time, but for the purpose of this analysis, we only examine the past 10 years of payments. The dividend has been cut by more than 20% on at least one occasion historically. During the past ten-year period, the first annual payment was US$1.88 in 2009, compared to US$1.22 last year. The dividend has shrunk at around 4.2% a year during that period. ConocoPhillips's dividend hasn't shrunk linearly at 4.2% per annum, but the CAGR is a useful estimate of the historical rate of change.
When a company's per-share dividend falls we question if this reflects poorly on either external business conditions, or the company's capital allocation decisions. Either way, we find it hard to get excited about a company with a declining dividend.
Dividend Growth Potential
With a relatively unstable dividend, it's even more important to see if earnings per share (EPS) are growing. Why take the risk of a dividend getting cut, unless there's a good chance of bigger dividends in future? ConocoPhillips's EPS are effectively flat over the past five years. Flat earnings per share are acceptable for a time, but over the long term, the purchasing power of the company's dividends could be eroded by inflation.
To summarise, shareholders should always check that ConocoPhillips's dividends are affordable, that its dividend payments are relatively stable, and that it has decent prospects for growing its earnings and dividend. Firstly, we like that ConocoPhillips has low and conservative payout ratios. Second, earnings per share have been essentially flat, and its history of dividend payments is chequered - having cut its dividend at least once in the past. Ultimately, ConocoPhillips comes up short on our dividend analysis. It's not that we think it is a bad company - just that there are likely more appealing dividend prospects out there on this analysis.
Without at least some growth in earnings per share over time, the dividend will eventually come under pressure either from costs or inflation. Very few businesses see earnings consistently shrink year after year in perpetuity though, and so it might be worth seeing what the 14 analysts we track are forecasting for the future.
Looking for more high-yielding dividend ideas? Try our curated list of dividend stocks with a yield above 3%.
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If you spot an error that warrants correction, please contact the editor at email@example.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.