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Is Maple Leaf Foods Inc. (TSE:MFI) A Smart Pick For Income Investors?

Simply Wall St

Dividend paying stocks like Maple Leaf Foods Inc. (TSE:MFI) 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. If you are hoping to live on your dividends, it's important to be more stringent with your investments than the average punter. Regular readers know we like to apply the same approach to each dividend stock, and we hope you'll find our analysis useful.

While Maple Leaf Foods's 1.8% dividend yield is not the highest, we think its lengthy payment history is quite interesting. The company also bought back stock equivalent to around 3.4% of market capitalisation this year. Some simple research can reduce the risk of buying Maple Leaf Foods for its dividend - read on to learn more.

Click the interactive chart for our full dividend analysis

TSX:MFI Historical Dividend Yield, May 21st 2019

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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. So we need to be form a view on if a company's dividend is sustainable, relative to its net profit after tax. In the last year, Maple Leaf Foods paid out 54% of its profit as dividends. This is a healthy payout ratio, and while it does limit the amount of earnings that can be reinvested in the business, there is also some room to lift the payout ratio over time.

In addition to comparing dividends against profits, we should inspect whether the company generated enough cash to pay its dividend. Maple Leaf Foods paid out 80% of its cash flow last year. This may be sustainable but it does not leave much of a buffer for unexpected circumstances. It's encouraging to see that the dividend is covered by both profit and cash flow. This generally suggests the dividend is sustainable, as long as earnings don't drop precipitously.

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

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. Maple Leaf Foods has been paying dividends for a long time, but for the purpose of this analysis, we only examine the past 10 years of payments. The dividend has been stable over the past 10 years, which is great. We think this could suggest some resilience to the business and its dividends. During the past ten-year period, the first annual payment was CA$0.16 in 2009, compared to CA$0.58 last year. Dividends per share have grown at approximately 14% per year over this time.


Dividend Growth Potential

While dividend payments have been relatively reliable, it would also be nice if earnings per share (EPS) were growing, as this is essential to maintaining the dividend's purchasing power over the long term. Strong earnings per share (EPS) growth might encourage our interest in the company despite fluctuating dividends, which is why it's great to see Maple Leaf Foods has grown its earnings per share at 59% per annum over the past five years. With recent, rapid earnings per share growth and a payout ratio of 54%, this business looks like an interesting prospect if earnings are reinvested effectively.

Conclusion

When we look at a dividend stock, we need to form a judgement on whether the dividend will grow, if the company is able to maintain it in a wide range of economic circumstances, and if the dividend payout is sustainable. First, we think Maple Leaf Foods is paying out an acceptable percentage of its cashflow and profit. Next, growing earnings per share and steady dividend payments is a great combination. Maple Leaf Foods has a number of positive attributes, but it falls slightly short of our (admittedly high) standards. Were there evidence of a strong moat or an attractive valuation, it could still be well worth a look.

Earnings growth generally bodes well for the future value of company dividend payments. See if the 6 Maple Leaf Foods 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.