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Why Canadian Natural Resources Limited (TSE:CNQ) Should Be In Your Dividend Portfolio

Simply Wall St

Is Canadian Natural Resources Limited (TSE:CNQ) a good dividend stock? How can we tell? Dividend paying companies with growing earnings can be highly rewarding in the long term. 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.

A high yield and a long history of paying dividends is an appealing combination for Canadian Natural Resources. We'd guess that plenty of investors have purchased it for the income. The company also returned around 2.1% of its market capitalisation to shareholders in the form of stock buybacks over the past year. Some simple analysis can reduce the risk of holding Canadian Natural Resources for its dividend, and we'll focus on the most important aspects below.

Explore this interactive chart for our latest analysis on Canadian Natural Resources!

TSX:CNQ Historical Dividend Yield, January 3rd 2020

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. Comparing dividend payments to a company's net profit after tax is a simple way of reality-checking whether a dividend is sustainable. Looking at the data, we can see that 43% of Canadian Natural Resources's profits were paid out as dividends in the last 12 months. A medium payout ratio strikes a good balance between paying dividends, and keeping enough back to invest in the business. Besides, if reinvestment opportunities dry up, the company has room to increase the dividend.

In addition to comparing dividends against profits, we should inspect whether the company generated enough cash to pay its dividend. Canadian Natural Resources paid out a conservative 42% of its free cash flow as dividends last year. 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.

Is Canadian Natural Resources's Balance Sheet Risky?

As Canadian Natural Resources has a meaningful amount of debt, we need to check its balance sheet to see if the company might have debt risks. 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 is a measure of a company's total debt. Net interest cover measures the ability to meet interest payments. Essentially we check that a) the company does not have too much debt, and b) that it can afford to pay the interest. With net debt of 2.22 times its EBITDA, Canadian Natural Resources's debt burden is within a normal range for most listed companies.

Net interest cover can be calculated by dividing earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) by the company's net interest expense. Net interest cover of 5.59 times its interest expense appears reasonable for Canadian Natural Resources, although we're conscious that even high interest cover doesn't make a company bulletproof.

We update our data on Canadian Natural Resources 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. For the purpose of this article, we only scrutinise the last decade of Canadian Natural Resources's dividend 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 CA$0.21 in 2010, compared to CA$1.50 last year. This works out to be a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of approximately 22% a year over that time.

Dividends have been growing pretty quickly, and even more impressively, they haven't experienced any notable falls during this period.

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 Canadian Natural Resources has grown its earnings per share at 10% per annum over the past five years. A company paying out less than a quarter of its earnings as dividends, and growing earnings at more than 10% per annum, looks to be right in the cusp of its growth phase. At the right price, we might be interested.

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. Firstly, we like that Canadian Natural Resources has low and conservative payout ratios. Next, growing earnings per share and steady dividend payments is a great combination. All these things considered, we think this organisation has a lot going for it from a dividend perspective.

Earnings growth generally bodes well for the future value of company dividend payments. See if the 9 Canadian Natural 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.