Read This Before Buying ConocoPhillips (NYSE:COP) For Its Dividend

Is ConocoPhillips (NYSE:COP) 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 popular dividend stock because of its yield, and then lose money if the company’s dividend doesn’t live up to expectations.

In this case, ConocoPhillips likely looks attractive to investors, given its 3.8% dividend yield and a payment history of over ten years. We’d guess that plenty of investors have purchased it for the income. During the year, the company also conducted a buyback equivalent to around 7.4% of its market capitalisation. Remember though, due to the recent spike in its share price, ConocoPhillips’s yield will look lower, even though the market may now be factoring in an improvement in its long-term prospects. 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

NYSE:COP Historical Dividend Yield June 14th 2020
NYSE:COP Historical Dividend Yield June 14th 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. 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 44% of ConocoPhillips’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. Plus, there is room to increase the payout ratio over time.

In addition to comparing dividends against profits, we should inspect whether the company generated enough cash to pay its dividend. ConocoPhillips paid out a conservative 44% 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.

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

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 ConocoPhillips’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$1.88 in 2010, compared to US$1.68 last year. The dividend has shrunk at around 1.1% a year during that period. ConocoPhillips’s dividend hasn’t shrunk linearly at 1.1% per annum, but the CAGR is a useful estimate of the historical rate of change.

We struggle to make a case for buying ConocoPhillips for its dividend, given that payments have shrunk over the past ten years.

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, ConocoPhillips’s earnings per share have shrunk at approximately 6.7% per annum. Declining earnings per share over a number of years is not a great sign for the dividend investor. Without some improvement, this does not bode well for the long term value of a company’s dividend.

Conclusion

To summarise, shareholders should always check that ConocoPhillips’s dividends are affordable, that its dividend payments are relatively stable, and that it has decent prospects for growing its earnings and dividend. It’s great to see that ConocoPhillips is paying out a low percentage of its earnings and cash flow. Earnings per share have been falling, and the company has cut its dividend at least once in the past. From a dividend perspective, this is a cause for concern. Ultimately, ConocoPhillips comes up short on our dividend analysis. It’s not that we think it is a bad company – just that there are likely more appealing dividend prospects out there on this analysis.

Investors generally tend to favour companies with a consistent, stable dividend policy as opposed to those operating an irregular one. At the same time, there are other factors our readers should be conscious of before pouring capital into a stock. Taking the debate a bit further, we’ve identified 4 warning signs for ConocoPhillips that investors need to be conscious of moving forward.

We have also put together a list of global stocks with a market capitalisation above $1bn and yielding more 3%.

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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. We aim to bring you long-term focused analysis driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis may not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements or qualitative material. Simply Wall St has no position in any stocks mentioned. Thank you for reading.