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Zooming in on NASDAQ:WDC's 4.1% Dividend Yield

Simply Wall St

Today we'll take a closer look at Western Digital Corporation (NASDAQ:WDC) 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.

With a goodly-sized dividend yield despite a relatively short payment history, investors might be wondering if Western Digital is a new dividend aristocrat in the making. It sure looks interesting on these metrics - but there's always more to the story . 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.

Click the interactive chart for our full dividend analysis

NasdaqGS:WDC Historical Dividend Yield, December 10th 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. Although it reported a loss over the past 12 months, Western Digital currently pays a dividend. When a company is loss-making, we next need to check to see if its cash flows can support the dividend.

Western Digital paid out 166% of its free cash last year. Cash flows can be lumpy, but this dividend was not well covered by cash flow. Paying out more than 100% of your free cash flow in dividends is generally not a long-term, sustainable state of affairs, so we think shareholders should watch this metric closely.

We update our data on Western Digital 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. Looking at the data, we can see that Western Digital has been paying a dividend for the past seven years. Its dividend has not fluctuated much that time, which we like, but we're conscious that the company might not yet have a track record of maintaining dividends in all economic conditions. During the past seven-year period, the first annual payment was US$1.00 in 2012, compared to US$2.00 last year. This works out to be a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of approximately 10% a year over that time.

Western Digital has been growing its dividend quite rapidly, which is exciting. However, the short payment history makes us question whether this performance will persist across a full market cycle.

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. Western Digital's earnings per share have shrunk at 48% a year over the past five years. With this kind of significant decline, we always wonder what has changed in the business. Dividends are about stability, and Western Digital's earnings per share, which support the dividend, have been anything but stable.

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. Western Digital's dividend is not well covered by free cash flow, plus it paid a dividend while being unprofitable. Earnings per share have been falling, and the company has a relatively short dividend history - shorter than we like, anyway. Using these criteria, Western Digital looks quite suboptimal from a dividend investment perspective.

Without at least some growth in earnings per share over time, the dividend will eventually come under pressure either from costs or inflation. Businesses can change though, and we think it would make sense to see what analysts are forecasting 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.