Is Valero Energy Corporation’s (NYSE:VLO) 4.7% Dividend Sustainable?

Today we’ll take a closer look at Valero Energy Corporation (NYSE:VLO) 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. Unfortunately, it’s common for investors to be enticed in by the seemingly attractive yield, and lose money when the company has to cut its dividend payments.

With Valero Energy yielding 4.7% and having paid a dividend for over 10 years, many investors likely find the company quite interesting. We’d guess that plenty of investors have purchased it for the income. The company also returned around 3.5% of its market capitalisation to shareholders in the form of stock buybacks over the past year. 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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NYSE:VLO Historical Dividend Yield, February 18th 2020
NYSE:VLO Historical Dividend Yield, February 18th 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. So we need to form a view on if a company’s dividend is sustainable, relative to its net profit after tax. In the last year, Valero Energy paid out 61% 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.

Remember, you can always get a snapshot of Valero Energy’s latest financial position, by checking our visualisation of its financial health.

Dividend Volatility

Before buying a stock for its income, we want to see if the dividends have been stable in the past, and if the company has a track record of maintaining its dividend. For the purpose of this article, we only scrutinise the last decade of Valero Energy’s dividend payments. The dividend has been cut on at least one occasion historically. During the past ten-year period, the first annual payment was US$0.60 in 2010, compared to US$3.92 last year. This works out to be a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of approximately 21% a year over that time. The dividends haven’t grown at precisely 21% every year, but this is a useful way to average out the historical rate of growth.

Valero Energy 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? In the last five years, Valero Energy’s earnings per share have shrunk at approximately 3.5% 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

To summarise, shareholders should always check that Valero Energy’s dividends are affordable, that its dividend payments are relatively stable, and that it has decent prospects for growing its earnings and dividend. Valero Energy’s payout ratio is within an average range for most market participants. Second, earnings per share have been in decline, and its 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 Valero Energy out there.

Given that earnings are not growing, the dividend does not look nearly so attractive. See if the 14 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%.

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.

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