Dividend paying stocks like PetroChina Company Limited (HKG:857) 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. On the other hand, investors have been known to buy a stock because of its yield, and then lose money if the company's dividend doesn't live up to expectations.
With PetroChina yielding 8.2% and having paid a dividend for over 10 years, many investors likely find the company quite interesting. It would not be a surprise to discover that many investors buy it for the dividends. Some simple analysis can offer a lot of insights when buying a company for its dividend, and we'll go through this below.
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, PetroChina currently pays a dividend. When a company recently reported a loss, we should investigate if its cash flows covered the dividend.
Last year, PetroChina paid a dividend while reporting negative free cash flow. While there may be an explanation, we think this behaviour is generally not sustainable.
We update our data on PetroChina every 24 hours, so you can always get our latest analysis of its financial health, here.
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. PetroChina has been paying dividends for a long time, but for the purpose of this analysis, we only examine the past 10 years of payments. Its dividend payments have declined on at least one occasion over the past 10 years. During the past 10-year period, the first annual payment was CN¥0.3 in 2010, compared to CN¥0.2 last year. The dividend has shrunk at around 4.9% a year during that period. PetroChina's dividend has been cut sharply at least once, so it hasn't fallen by 4.9% 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
Given that the dividend has been cut in the past, we need to check if earnings are growing and if that might lead to stronger dividends in the future. While there may be fluctuations in the past , PetroChina's earnings per share have basically not grown from where they were five years ago. Flat earnings per share are acceptable for a time, but over the long term, the purchasing power of the company's dividends could be eroded by inflation. A payout ratio below 50% leaves ample room to reinvest in the business, and provides finanical flexibility. However, earnings per share are unfortunately not growing much. Might this suggest that the company should pay a higher dividend instead?
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. PetroChina's dividend is not well covered by free cash flow, plus it paid a dividend while being unprofitable. Second, earnings have been essentially flat, and its history of dividend payments is chequered - having cut its dividend at least once in the past. There are a few too many issues for us to get comfortable with PetroChina from a dividend perspective. Businesses can change, but we would struggle to identify why an investor should rely on this stock for their income.
It's important to note that companies having a consistent dividend policy will generate greater investor confidence than those having an erratic one. Still, investors need to consider a host of other factors, apart from dividend payments, when analysing a company. For example, we've picked out 2 warning signs for PetroChina that investors should know about before committing capital to this stock.
If you are a dividend investor, you might also want to look at our curated list of dividend stocks yielding above 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.
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