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Is Imperial Brands PLC (LON:IMB) A Smart Pick For Income Investors?

Simply Wall St

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Is Imperial Brands PLC (LON:IMB) a good dividend stock? How can we tell? Dividend paying companies with growing earnings can be highly rewarding in the long term. 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.

A high yield and a long history of paying dividends is an appealing combination for Imperial Brands. We'd guess that plenty of investors have purchased it for the income. Before you buy any stock for its dividend however, you should always remember Warren Buffett's two rules: 1) Don't lose money, and 2) Remember rule #1. We'll run through some checks below to help with this.

Explore this interactive chart for our latest analysis on Imperial Brands!

LSE:IMB Historical Dividend Yield, July 8th 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. Imperial Brands paid out 119% of its profit as dividends, over the trailing twelve month period. A payout ratio above 100% is definitely an item of concern, unless there are some other circumstances that would justify it.

In addition to comparing dividends against profits, we should inspect whether the company generated enough cash to pay its dividend. Imperial Brands paid out 95% of its free cash flow last year, suggesting the dividend is poorly covered by cash flow. As Imperial Brands's dividend was not well covered by either earnings or cash flow, we would be concerned that this dividend could be at risk over the long term.

Remember, you can always get a snapshot of Imperial Brands's latest financial position, by checking our visualisation of its financial health.

Dividend Volatility

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. For the purpose of this article, we only scrutinise the last decade of Imperial Brands's dividend payments. During the past ten-year period, the first annual payment was UK£0.63 in 2009, compared to UK£1.88 last year. Dividends per share have grown at approximately 12% per year over this time.

It's not great to see that the payment has been cut in the past. We're generally more wary of companies that have cut their dividend before, as they tend to perform worse in an economic downturn.

Dividend Growth Potential

The other half of the dividend investing equation is evaluating whether earnings per share (EPS) are growing. Growing EPS can help maintain or increase the purchasing power of the dividend over the long run. Strong earnings per share (EPS) growth might encourage our interest in the company despite fluctuating dividends, which is why it's great to see Imperial Brands has grown its earnings per share at 12% per annum over the past five years. With a payout ratio of 119%, Imperial Brands is paying out substantially more than it earned in dividends. This is a risky practice.

Conclusion

Dividend investors should always want to know if a) a company's dividends are affordable, b) if there is a track record of consistent payments, and c) if the dividend is capable of growing. Imperial Brands paid out almost all of its cash flow and profit as dividends, leaving little to reinvest in the business. Next, earnings growth has been good, but unfortunately the dividend has been cut at least once in the past. Overall, Imperial Brands falls short in several key areas here. Unless the investor has strong grounds for an alternative conclusion, we find it hard to get interested in a dividend stock with these characteristics.

Earnings growth generally bodes well for the future value of company dividend payments. See if the 16 Imperial Brands analysts we track are forecasting continued growth with our free report on 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%.

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.