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Could FutureFuel Corp. (NYSE:FF) Have The Makings Of Another Dividend Aristocrat?

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Simply Wall St
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Could FutureFuel Corp. (NYSE:FF) 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. Yet sometimes, investors buy a popular dividend stock because of its yield, and then lose money if the company's dividend doesn't live up to expectations.

A slim 2.0% yield is hard to get excited about, but the long payment history is respectable. At the right price, or with strong growth opportunities, FutureFuel could have potential. Some simple analysis can reduce the risk of holding FutureFuel for its dividend, and we'll focus on the most important aspects below.

Click the interactive chart for our full dividend analysis

NYSE:FF Historical Dividend Yield, July 10th 2019
NYSE:FF Historical Dividend Yield, July 10th 2019

Payout ratios

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. Comparing dividend payments to a company's net profit after tax is a simple way of reality-checking whether a dividend is sustainable. In the last year, FutureFuel paid out 46% of its profit as dividends. This is a middling range that strikes a nice balance between paying dividends to shareholders, and retaining enough earnings to invest in future growth. One of the risks is that management reinvests the retained capital poorly instead of paying a higher dividend.

We also measure dividends paid against a company's levered free cash flow, to see if enough cash was generated to cover the dividend. FutureFuel paid out 15% of its free cash flow as dividends last year, which is conservative and suggests the dividend is sustainable. It's encouraging to see that the dividend is covered by both profit and cash flow. This generally suggests the dividend is sustainable, as long as earnings don't drop precipitously.

With a strong net cash balance, FutureFuel investors may not have much to worry about in the near term from a dividend perspective.

We update our data on FutureFuel 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. FutureFuel has been paying dividends for a long time, but for the purpose of this analysis, we only examine the past 10 years of payments. During the past ten-year period, the first annual payment was US$0.30 in 2009, compared to US$0.24 last year. The dividend has shrunk at around 2.2% a year during that period.

When a company's per-share dividend falls we question if this reflects poorly on either the business or management. Either way, we find it hard to get excited about a company with a declining dividend.

Dividend Growth Potential

Examining whether the dividend is affordable and stable is important. However, it's also important to assess if earnings per share (EPS) are growing. Growing EPS can help maintain or increase the purchasing power of the dividend over the long run. It's not great to see that FutureFuel's have fallen at approximately 21% over the past five years. If earnings continue to decline, the dividend may come under pressure. Every investor should make an assessment of whether the company is taking steps to stabilise the situation.

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. First, we like that the company's dividend payments appear well covered, although the retained capital also needs to be effectively reinvested. Second, earnings per share have been in decline, and its dividend has been cut at least once in the past. In sum, we find it hard to get excited about FutureFuel from a dividend perspective. It's not that we think it's a bad business; just that there are other companies that perform better on these criteria.

You can also discover whether shareholders are aligned with insider interests by checking our visualisation of insider shareholdings and trades in FutureFuel stock.

Looking for more high-yielding dividend ideas? Try our curated list of dividend stocks with a yield 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.