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Is Northern Star Resources Limited (ASX:NST) An Attractive Dividend Stock?

Simply Wall St

Today we'll take a closer look at Northern Star Resources Limited (ASX:NST) from a dividend investor's perspective. Owning a strong business and reinvesting the dividends is widely seen as an attractive way of growing your wealth. 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.

Investors might not know much about Northern Star Resources's dividend prospects, even though it has been paying dividends for the last seven years and offers a 1.4% yield. A low yield is generally a turn-off, but if the prospects for earnings growth were strong, investors might be pleasantly surprised by the long-term results. Some simple analysis can offer a lot of insights when buying a company for its dividend, and we'll go through this below.

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ASX:NST Historical Dividend Yield, December 23rd 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. As a result, we should always investigate whether a company can afford its dividend, measured as a percentage of a company's net income after tax. In the last year, Northern Star Resources paid out 55% of its profit as dividends. A payout ratio above 50% generally implies a business is reaching maturity, although it is still possible to reinvest in the business or increase the dividend over time.

Another important check we do is to see if the free cash flow generated is sufficient to pay the dividend. Northern Star Resources paid out 76% of its cash flow last year. This may be sustainable but it does not leave much of a buffer for unexpected circumstances. It's positive to see that Northern Star Resources's dividend is covered by both profits and cash flow, since this is generally a sign that the dividend is sustainable, and a lower payout ratio usually suggests a greater margin of safety before the dividend gets cut.

While the above analysis focuses on dividends relative to a company's earnings, we do note Northern Star Resources's strong net cash position, which will let it pay larger dividends for a time, should it choose.

We update our data on Northern Star Resources every 24 hours, so you can always get our latest analysis of its financial health, here.

Dividend Volatility

From the perspective of an income investor who wants to earn dividends for many years, there is not much point buying a stock if its dividend is regularly cut or is not reliable. Northern Star Resources has been paying a dividend for the past seven years. It's good to see that Northern Star Resources 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 seven-year period, the first annual payment was AU$0.025 in 2012, compared to AU$0.15 last year. Dividends per share have grown at approximately 29% per year over this time. The dividends haven't grown at precisely 29% every year, but this is a useful way to average out the historical rate of growth.

Northern Star Resources has grown distributions at a rapid rate despite cutting the dividend at least once in the past. Companies that cut once often cut again, but it might be worth considering if the business has turned a corner.

Dividend Growth Potential

With a relatively unstable dividend, it's even more important to see if earnings per share (EPS) are growing. Why take the risk of a dividend getting cut, unless there's a good chance of bigger dividends in future? Strong earnings per share (EPS) growth might encourage our interest in the company despite fluctuating dividends, which is why it's great to see Northern Star Resources has grown its earnings per share at 40% per annum over the past five years. Earnings per share are sharply up, but we wonder if paying out more than half its earnings (leaving less for reinvestment) is an implicit signal that Northern Star Resources's growth will be slower in the future.

We'd also point out that Northern Star Resources issued a meaningful number of new shares in the past year. Trying to grow the dividend when issuing new shares reminds us of the ancient Greek tale of Sisyphus - perpetually pushing a boulder uphill. Companies that consistently issue new shares are often suboptimal from a dividend perspective.

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 Northern Star Resources is paying out an acceptable percentage of its cashflow and profit. Next, earnings growth has been good, but unfortunately the dividend has been cut at least once in the past. While we're not hugely bearish on it, overall we think there are potentially better dividend stocks than Northern Star Resources out there.

Earnings growth generally bodes well for the future value of company dividend payments. See if the 6 Northern Star Resources analysts we track are forecasting continued growth with our free report on analyst estimates for the company.

Looking for more high-yielding dividend ideas? Try our curated list of dividend stocks with a yield above 3%.

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.

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. Thank you for reading.