Dividend paying stocks like Woodside Petroleum Ltd (ASX:WPL) tend to be popular with investors, and for good reason - some research suggests a significant amount of all stock market returns come from reinvested dividends. 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, Woodside Petroleum likely looks attractive to investors, given its 4.0% dividend yield and a payment history of over ten years. It would not be a surprise to discover that many investors buy it for the dividends. 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.
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. So we need to form a view on if a company's dividend is sustainable, relative to its net profit after tax. Although it reported a loss over the past 12 months, Woodside Petroleum 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.
Woodside Petroleum's cash payout ratio in the last year was 32%, which suggests dividends were well covered by cash generated by the business.
Consider getting our latest analysis on Woodside Petroleum's financial position here.
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. Woodside Petroleum has been paying dividends for a long time, but for the purpose of this analysis, we only examine the past 10 years of payments. The dividend has been cut on at least one occasion historically. During the past 10-year period, the first annual payment was US$0.9 in 2011, compared to US$0.8 last year. This works out to be a decline of approximately 1.0% per year over that time. Woodside Petroleum's dividend has been cut sharply at least once, so it hasn't fallen by 1.0% every year, but this is a decent approximation of the long term change.
A shrinking dividend over a 10-year period is not ideal, and we'd be concerned about investing in a dividend stock that lacks a solid record of growing dividends per share.
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? Woodside Petroleum's earnings per share have shrunk at 29% 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 Woodside Petroleum's earnings per share, which support the dividend, have been anything but stable.
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. We're a bit uncomfortable with the company paying a dividend while being loss-making, although at least the dividend was covered by free cash flow. Earnings per share are down, and Woodside Petroleum's dividend has been cut at least once in the past, which is disappointing. In summary, Woodside Petroleum 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.
It's important to note that companies having a consistent dividend policy will generate greater investor confidence than those having an erratic one. However, there are other things to consider for investors when analysing stock performance. To that end, Woodside Petroleum has 4 warning signs (and 1 which can't be ignored) we think you should know about.
We have also put together a list of global stocks with a market capitalisation above $1bn and yielding more 3%.
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Woodside Energy Group
Woodside Energy Group Ltd engages in the exploration, evaluation, development, production, marketing, and sale of hydrocarbons in Oceania, Asia, Canada, Africa, and internationally.
Excellent balance sheet with proven track record and pays a dividend.