Is Murphy Oil Corporation (NYSE:MUR) A Strong Dividend Stock?

Is Murphy Oil Corporation (NYSE:MUR) 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.

In this case, Murphy Oil likely looks attractive to investors, given its 4.9% 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 9.1% of market capitalisation this year. Some simple research can reduce the risk of buying Murphy Oil for its dividend – read on to learn more.

Explore this interactive chart for our latest analysis on Murphy Oil!

NYSE:MUR Historical Dividend Yield, August 12th 2019
NYSE:MUR Historical Dividend Yield, August 12th 2019

Payout ratios

Dividends are typically paid from company earnings. If a company pays more in dividends than it earned, 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. Looking at the data, we can see that 42% of Murphy Oil’s profits were paid out as dividends in the last 12 months. This is a medium payout level that leaves enough capital in the business to fund opportunities that might arise, while also rewarding shareholders. One of the risks is that management reinvests the retained capital poorly instead of paying a higher dividend.

We also measure dividends paid against a company’s levered free cash flow, to see if enough cash was generated to cover the dividend. Last year, Murphy Oil paid a dividend while reporting negative free cash flow. While there may be an explanation, we think this behaviour is generally not sustainable.

Is Murphy Oil’s Balance Sheet Risky?

As Murphy Oil 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 measures total debt load relative to company earnings (lower = less debt), while net interest cover measures the ability to pay interest on the debt (higher = greater ability to pay interest costs). Murphy Oil has net debt of 2.08 times its 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 4.52 times its interest expense, Murphy Oil’s interest cover is starting to look a bit thin.

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. For the purpose of this article, we only scrutinise the last decade of Murphy Oil’s dividend payments. The dividend has been cut by more than 20% on at least one occasion historically. Its most recent annual dividend was US$1.00 per share, effectively flat on its first payment ten years ago.

We’re glad to see the dividend has risen, but with a limited rate of growth and fluctuations in the payments, we don’t think this is an attractive combination.

Dividend Growth Potential

With a relatively unstable dividend, it’s even more important to evaluate if earnings per share (EPS) are growing – it’s not worth taking the risk on a dividend getting cut, unless you might be rewarded with larger dividends in future. Murphy Oil’s earnings per share have shrunk at 13% 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 Murphy Oil’s earnings per share, which support the dividend, have been anything but stable.

Conclusion

To summarise, shareholders should always check that Murphy Oil’s dividends are affordable, that its dividend payments are relatively stable, and that it has decent prospects for growing its earnings and dividend. First, we like Murphy Oil’s low dividend payout ratio, although we’re a bit concerned that it paid out a substantially higher percentage of its free cash flow. Unfortunately, the company has not been able to generate earnings per share growth, and cut its dividend at least once in the past. In summary, Murphy Oil 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.

Given that earnings are not growing, the dividend does not look nearly so attractive. See if the 10 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.