Dividend paying stocks like Lundin Energy AB (STO:LUNE) 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.
With a goodly-sized dividend yield despite a relatively short payment history, investors might be wondering if Lundin Energy is a new dividend aristocrat in the making. We'd agree the yield does look enticing. The company also bought back stock equivalent to around 24% of market capitalisation this year. Some simple analysis can reduce the risk of holding Lundin Energy for its dividend, and we'll focus on the most important aspects below.
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. 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 38% of Lundin Energy'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.
In addition to comparing dividends against profits, we should inspect whether the company generated enough cash to pay its dividend. Lundin Energy paid out 112% of its free cash flow last year, suggesting the dividend is poorly covered by cash flow. Lundin Energy paid out less in dividends than it reported in profits, but unfortunately it didn't generate enough free cash flow to cover the dividend. Were it to repeatedly pay dividends that were not well covered by cash flow, this could be a risk to Lundin Energy's ability to maintain its dividend.
Is Lundin Energy's Balance Sheet Risky?
As Lundin Energy has a meaningful amount of debt, we need to check its balance sheet to see if the company might have debt risks. A rough way to check this is with these two simple ratios: a) net debt divided by EBITDA (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation), and b) 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. Lundin Energy has net debt of 2.03 times its EBITDA. Using debt can accelerate business growth, but also increases the risks.
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 13.97 times its interest expense, Lundin Energy's interest cover is quite strong - more than enough to cover the interest expense.
Remember, you can always get a snapshot of Lundin Energy's latest financial position, by checking our visualisation of its financial health.
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. The first recorded dividend for Lundin Energy, in the last decade, was nine years ago. It's good to see that Lundin Energy has been paying a dividend for a number of years. However, the dividend has been cut at least once in the past, and we're concerned that what has been cut once, could be cut again. During the past nine-year period, the first annual payment was US$2.30 in 2011, compared to US$1.00 last year. This works out to be a decline of approximately 8.8% per year over that time. Lundin Energy's dividend has been cut sharply at least once, so it hasn't fallen by 8.8% every year, but this is a decent approximation of the long term change.
We struggle to make a case for buying Lundin Energy for its dividend, given that payments have shrunk over the past nine years.
Dividend Growth Potential
With a relatively unstable dividend, and a poor history of shrinking dividends, it's even more important to see if EPS are growing. Strong earnings per share (EPS) growth might encourage our interest in the company despite fluctuating dividends, which is why it's great to see Lundin Energy has grown its earnings per share at 66% per annum over the past five years. Earnings per share have rocketed in recent times, and we like that the company is retaining more than half of its earnings to reinvest. However, always remember that very few companies can grow at double digit rates forever.
To summarise, shareholders should always check that Lundin Energy's dividends are affordable, that its dividend payments are relatively stable, and that it has decent prospects for growing its earnings and dividend. First, we like Lundin Energy's low dividend payout ratio, although we're a bit concerned that it paid out a substantially higher percentage of its free cash flow. We were also glad to see it growing earnings, but it was concerning to see the dividend has been cut at least once in the past. Ultimately, Lundin Energy 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.
Market movements attest to how highly valued a consistent dividend policy is compared to one which is more unpredictable. Still, investors need to consider a host of other factors, apart from dividend payments, when analysing a company. To that end, Lundin Energy has 4 warning signs (and 1 which is significant) we think you should know about.
If you are a dividend investor, you might also want to look at our curated list of dividend stocks yielding above 3%.
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.
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