China Mobile Limited (HKG:941) is about to trade ex-dividend in the next 4 days. If you purchase the stock on or after the 25th of May, you won't be eligible to receive this dividend, when it is paid on the 23rd of June.
China Mobile's next dividend payment will be HK$1.72 per share, and in the last 12 months, the company paid a total of HK$2.95 per share. Looking at the last 12 months of distributions, China Mobile has a trailing yield of approximately 5.6% on its current stock price of HK$55.9. Dividends are an important source of income to many shareholders, but the health of the business is crucial to maintaining those dividends. We need to see whether the dividend is covered by earnings and if it's growing.
Dividends are usually paid out of company profits, so if a company pays out more than it earned then its dividend is usually at greater risk of being cut. China Mobile paid out 56% of its earnings to investors last year, a normal payout level for most businesses. That said, even highly profitable companies sometimes might not generate enough cash to pay the dividend, which is why we should always check if the dividend is covered by cash flow. Over the past year it paid out 125% of its free cash flow as dividends, which is uncomfortably high. We're curious about why the company paid out more cash than it generated last year, since this can be one of the early signs that a dividend may be unsustainable.
China Mobile does have a large net cash position on the balance sheet, which could fund large dividends for a time, if the company so chose. Still, smart investors know that it is better to assess dividends relative to the cash and profit generated by the business. Paying dividends out of cash on the balance sheet is not long-term sustainable.
China Mobile paid out less in dividends than it reported in profits, but unfortunately it didn't generate enough cash to cover the dividend. Cash is king, as they say, and were China Mobile to repeatedly pay dividends that aren't well covered by cashflow, we would consider this a warning sign.
Have Earnings And Dividends Been Growing?
Stocks with flat earnings can still be attractive dividend payers, but it is important to be more conservative with your approach and demand a greater margin for safety when it comes to dividend sustainability. Investors love dividends, so if earnings fall and the dividend is reduced, expect a stock to be sold off heavily at the same time. It's not encouraging to see that China Mobile's earnings are effectively flat over the past five years. It's better than seeing them drop, certainly, but over the long term, all of the best dividend stocks are able to meaningfully grow their earnings per share.
The main way most investors will assess a company's dividend prospects is by checking the historical rate of dividend growth. In the past ten years, China Mobile has increased its dividend at approximately 2.6% a year on average.
To Sum It Up
Has China Mobile got what it takes to maintain its dividend payments? It's not great to see earnings per share have been flat and that the company paid out an uncomfortably high percentage of its cash flow over the past year. Cash flows are typically more volatile than earnings, but this is still not what we like to see. It's not the most attractive proposition from a dividend perspective, and we'd probably give this one a miss for now.
So if you're still interested in China Mobile despite it's poor dividend qualities, you should be well informed on some of the risks facing this stock. For example - China Mobile has 1 warning sign we think you should be aware of.
We wouldn't recommend just buying the first dividend stock you see, though. Here's a list of interesting dividend stocks with a greater than 2% yield and an upcoming dividend.
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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. We aim to bring you long-term focused analysis driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis may not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements or qualitative material. Simply Wall St has no position in any stocks mentioned. Thank you for reading.