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Does Freeport-McMoRan Inc. (NYSE:FCX) Have A Place In Your Dividend Stock Portfolio?

Simply Wall St

Dividend paying stocks like Freeport-McMoRan Inc. (NYSE:FCX) 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. Yet sometimes, investors buy a stock for its dividend and lose money because the share price falls by more than they earned in dividend payments.

A slim 2.3% yield is hard to get excited about, but the long payment history is respectable. At the right price, or with strong growth opportunities, Freeport-McMoRan could have potential. Some simple research can reduce the risk of buying Freeport-McMoRan for its dividend - read on to learn more.

Explore this interactive chart for our latest analysis on Freeport-McMoRan!

NYSE:FCX Historical Dividend Yield, October 7th 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. Comparing dividend payments to a company's net profit after tax is a simple way of reality-checking whether a dividend is sustainable. Looking at the data, we can see that 29% of Freeport-McMoRan's profits were paid out as dividends in the last 12 months. 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. Freeport-McMoRan paid out 2079% of its free cash flow last year, suggesting the dividend is poorly covered by cash flow. Paying out such a high percentage of cash flow suggests that the dividend was funded from either cash at bank or by borrowing, neither of which is desirable over the long term. Freeport-McMoRan paid out less in dividends than it reported in profits, but unfortunately it didn't generate enough free cash flow to cover the dividend. Cash is king, as they say, and were Freeport-McMoRan to repeatedly pay dividends that aren't well covered by cashflow, we would consider this a warning sign.

Is Freeport-McMoRan's Balance Sheet Risky?

As Freeport-McMoRan 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. Freeport-McMoRan has net debt of 1.94 times its EBITDA, which we think is not too troublesome.

Net interest cover can be calculated by dividing earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) by the company's net interest expense. Interest cover of 3.76 times its interest expense is starting to become a concern for Freeport-McMoRan, and be aware that lenders may place additional restrictions on the company as well.

We update our data on Freeport-McMoRan 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. Freeport-McMoRan has been paying dividends for a long time, but for the purpose of this analysis, we only examine the past 10 years of payments. This dividend has been unstable, which we define as having fallen by at least 20% one or more times over this time. During the past ten-year period, the first annual payment was US$0.30 in 2009, compared to US$0.20 last year. The dividend has shrunk at around 4.0% a year during that period. Freeport-McMoRan's dividend has been cut sharply at least once, so it hasn't fallen by 4.0% every year, but this is a decent approximation of the long term 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

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. Freeport-McMoRan's earnings per share have shrunk at 24% a year over the past five years. A sharp decline in earnings per share is not great from from a dividend perspective, as even conservative payout ratios can come under pressure if earnings fall far enough.

We'd also point out that Freeport-McMoRan issued a meaningful number of new shares in the past year. Regularly issuing new shares can be detrimental - it's hard to grow dividends per share when new shares are regularly being created.

Conclusion

To summarise, shareholders should always check that Freeport-McMoRan's dividends are affordable, that its dividend payments are relatively stable, and that it has decent prospects for growing its earnings and dividend. Firstly, the company has a conservative payout ratio, although we'd note that its cashflow in the past year was substantially lower than its reported profit. Earnings per share have been falling, and the company has cut its dividend at least once in the past. From a dividend perspective, this is a cause for concern. In summary, Freeport-McMoRan has a number of shortcomings that we'd find it hard to get past. Things could change, but we think there are likely more attractive alternatives out there.

Given that earnings are not growing, the dividend does not look nearly so attractive. See if the 12 analysts are forecasting a turnaround in our free collection of analyst estimates here.

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.