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Here's Why We're Wary Of Buying Compass Minerals International, Inc.'s (NYSE:CMP) For Its Upcoming Dividend

Simply Wall St

It looks like Compass Minerals International, Inc. (NYSE:CMP) is about to go ex-dividend in the next 2 days. Investors can purchase shares before the 28th of February in order to be eligible for this dividend, which will be paid on the 16th of March.

Compass Minerals International's next dividend payment will be US$0.72 per share, on the back of last year when the company paid a total of US$2.88 to shareholders. Last year's total dividend payments show that Compass Minerals International has a trailing yield of 4.7% on the current share price of $61.55. We love seeing companies pay a dividend, but it's also important to be sure that laying the golden eggs isn't going to kill our golden goose! We need to see whether the dividend is covered by earnings and if it's growing.

See our latest analysis for Compass Minerals International

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. Compass Minerals International distributed an unsustainably high 156% of its profit as dividends to shareholders last year. Without more sustainable payment behaviour, the dividend looks precarious. Yet cash flow is typically more important than profit for assessing dividend sustainability, so we should always check if the company generated enough cash to afford its dividend. Compass Minerals International paid out more free cash flow than it generated - 160%, to be precise - last year, which we think is concerningly 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.

Cash is slightly more important than profit from a dividend perspective, but given Compass Minerals International's payments were not well covered by either earnings or cash flow, we are concerned about the sustainability of this dividend.

Click here to see the company's payout ratio, plus analyst estimates of its future dividends.

NYSE:CMP Historical Dividend Yield, February 25th 2020

Have Earnings And Dividends Been Growing?

When earnings decline, dividend companies become much harder to analyse and own safely. If business enters a downturn and the dividend is cut, the company could see its value fall precipitously. Readers will understand then, why we're concerned to see Compass Minerals International's earnings per share have dropped 22% a year over the past five years. Ultimately, when earnings per share decline, the size of the pie from which dividends can be paid, shrinks.

Another key way to measure a company's dividend prospects is by measuring its historical rate of dividend growth. Since the start of our data, ten years ago, Compass Minerals International has lifted its dividend by approximately 7.3% a year on average. The only way to pay higher dividends when earnings are shrinking is either to pay out a larger percentage of profits, spend cash from the balance sheet, or borrow the money. Compass Minerals International is already paying out 156% of its profits, and with shrinking earnings we think it's unlikely that this dividend will grow quickly in the future.

The Bottom Line

Should investors buy Compass Minerals International for the upcoming dividend? Not only are earnings per share declining, but Compass Minerals International is paying out an uncomfortably high percentage of both its earnings and cashflow to shareholders as dividends. This is a clearly suboptimal combination that usually suggests the dividend is at risk of being cut. If not now, then perhaps in the future. With the way things are shaping up from a dividend perspective, we'd be inclined to steer clear of Compass Minerals International.

Curious what other investors think of Compass Minerals International? See what analysts are forecasting, with this visualisation of its historical and future estimated earnings and cash flow.

A common investment mistake is buying the first interesting stock you see. Here you can find a list of promising dividend stocks with a greater than 2% yield and an upcoming dividend.

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.

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