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Is Whirlpool Corporation's (NYSE:WHR) 3.4% Dividend Sustainable?

Simply Wall St

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Today we'll take a closer look at Whirlpool Corporation (NYSE:WHR) 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.

In this case, Whirlpool likely looks attractive to investors, given its 3.4% dividend yield and a payment history of over ten years. We'd guess that plenty of investors have purchased it for the income. The company also bought back stock equivalent to around 13% of market capitalisation this year. When buying stocks for their dividends, you should always run through the checks below, to see if the dividend looks sustainable.

Click the interactive chart for our full dividend analysis

NYSE:WHR Historical Dividend Yield, June 23rd 2019

Payout ratios

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. 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. Whirlpool paid out 155% 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.

We also measure dividends paid against a company's levered free cash flow, to see if enough cash was generated to cover the dividend. Whirlpool paid out 69% of its cash flow as dividends last year, which is within a reasonable range for the average corporation. It's good to see that while Whirlpool's dividends were not covered by profits, at least they are affordable from a cash perspective. Still, if the company repeatedly paid a dividend greater than its profits, we'd be concerned. Very few companies are able to sustainably pay dividends larger than their reported earnings.

Is Whirlpool's Balance Sheet Risky?

As Whirlpool's dividend was not well covered by earnings, we need to check its balance sheet for signs of financial distress. 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 measures a company's total debt load relative to its earnings (lower = less debt), while net interest cover measures the company's ability to pay the interest on its debt (higher = greater ability to pay interest costs). Whirlpool has net debt of 2.95 times its earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortisation (EBITDA). Using debt can accelerate business growth, but also increases the risks.

Net interest cover can be calculated by dividing earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) by the company's net interest expense. With EBIT of 4.54 times its interest expense, Whirlpool's interest cover is starting to look a bit thin.

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

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. Whirlpool has been paying dividends for a long time, but for the purpose of this analysis, we only examine the past 10 years of payments. During this period the dividend has been stable, which could imply the business could have relatively consistent earnings power. During the past ten-year period, the first annual payment was US$1.72 in 2009, compared to US$4.80 last year. Dividends per share have grown at approximately 11% per year over this time.

It's rare to find a company that has grown its dividends rapidly over ten years and not had any notable cuts, but Whirlpool has done it, which we really like.

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. In the last five years, Whirlpool's earnings per share have shrunk at approximately 22% per annum. If earnings continue to decline, the dividend may come under pressure. Every investor should make an assessment of whether the company is taking steps to stabilise the situation.

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. We're a bit uncomfortable with its high payout ratio, although at least the dividend was covered by free cash flow. It's not great to see earnings per share shrinking. The dividends have been relatively consistent, but we wonder for how much longer this will be true. In summary, Whirlpool has a number of shortcomings that we'd find it hard to get past. Things could change, but we think there are a number of better ideas out there.

Without at least some growth in earnings per share over time, the dividend will eventually come under pressure either from costs or inflation. See if the 9 analysts are forecasting a turnaround in our free collection of analyst estimates here.

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