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Could Nutrien Ltd. (TSE:NTR) Have The Makings Of Another Dividend Aristocrat?

Simply Wall St

Dividend paying stocks like Nutrien Ltd. (TSE:NTR) tend to be popular with investors, and for good reason - some research suggests a significant amount of all stock market returns come from reinvested 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.

Nutrien pays a 3.8% dividend yield, and has been paying dividends for the past two years. A high yield probably looks enticing, but investors are likely wondering about the short payment history. The company also bought back stock equivalent to around 7.5% of market capitalisation this year. Some simple research can reduce the risk of buying Nutrien for its dividend - read on to learn more.

Click the interactive chart for our full dividend analysis

TSX:NTR Historical Dividend Yield, January 9th 2020

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. So we need to form a view on if a company's dividend is sustainable, relative to its net profit after tax. Looking at the data, we can see that 77% of Nutrien'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.

We also measure dividends paid against a company's levered free cash flow, to see if enough cash was generated to cover the dividend. The company paid out 65% of its free cash flow, which is not bad per se, but does start to limit the amount of cash Nutrien has available to meet other needs. It's positive to see that Nutrien'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.

Is Nutrien's Balance Sheet Risky?

As Nutrien has a meaningful amount of debt, we need to check its balance sheet to see if the company might have debt risks. A quick check of its financial situation can be done with two ratios: net debt divided by EBITDA (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation), and net interest cover. Net debt to EBITDA is a measure of a company's total debt. Net interest cover measures the ability to meet interest payments. Essentially we check that a) the company does not have too much debt, and b) that it can afford to pay the interest. With net debt of 2.58 times its EBITDA, Nutrien's debt burden is within a normal range for most listed companies.

We calculated its interest cover by measuring its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT), and dividing this by the company's net interest expense. With EBIT of 4.93 times its interest expense, Nutrien's interest cover is starting to look a bit thin.

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

Dividend Volatility

Before buying a stock for its income, we want to see if the dividends have been stable in the past, and if the company has a track record of maintaining its dividend. The company has been paying a stable dividend for a few years now, but we'd like to see more evidence of consistency over a longer period. During the past two-year period, the first annual payment was US$1.60 in 2018, compared to US$1.80 last year. Dividends per share have grown at approximately 6.1% per year over this time.

Nutrien has been growing its dividend at a decent rate, and the payments have been stable despite the short payment history. This is a positive start.

Dividend Growth Potential

Dividend payments have been consistent over the past few years, but we should always check if earnings per share (EPS) are growing, as this will help maintain the purchasing power of the dividend. While there may be fluctuations in the past , Nutrien'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. Earnings are not growing quickly at all, and the company is paying out most of its profit as dividends. When the rate of return on reinvestment opportunities falls below a certain minimum level, companies often elect to pay a larger dividend instead. This is why many mature companies often have larger dividend yields.

Conclusion

To summarise, shareholders should always check that Nutrien's dividends are affordable, that its dividend payments are relatively stable, and that it has decent prospects for growing its earnings and dividend. Nutrien's is paying out more than half its income as dividends, but at least the dividend is covered by both reported earnings and cashflow. Second, the company has not been able to generate earnings growth, and its history of dividend payments is shorter than we consider ideal (from a reliability perspective). In sum, we find it hard to get excited about Nutrien 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.

Companies that are growing earnings tend to be the best dividend stocks over the long term. See what the 18 analysts we track are forecasting for Nutrien for free with public analyst estimates for the company.

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

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.

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. Thank you for reading.