Could ITC Limited (NSE:ITC) be an attractive dividend share to own for the long haul? Investors are often drawn to strong companies with the idea of reinvesting the dividends. 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.
A 2.3% yield is nothing to get excited about, but investors probably think the long payment history suggests ITC has some staying power. 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 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. ITC paid out 94% of its profit as dividends, over the trailing twelve month period. Its payout ratio is quite high, and the dividend is not well covered by earnings. If earnings are growing or the company has a large cash balance, this might be sustainable - still, we think it is a concern.
Another important check we do is to see if the free cash flow generated is sufficient to pay the dividend. ITC paid out 63% of its free cash flow last year, which is acceptable, but is starting to limit the amount of earnings that can be reinvested into the business. It's good to see that while ITC's dividends were not well covered by profits, at least they are affordable from a free cash flow perspective. Even so, if the company were to continue paying out almost all of its profits, we'd be concerned about whether the dividend is sustainable in a downturn.
While the above analysis focuses on dividends relative to a company's earnings, we do note ITC's strong net cash position, which will let it pay larger dividends for a time, should it choose.
Consider getting our latest analysis on ITC's financial position here.
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 ITC's dividend 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 ₹1.5 in 2011, compared to ₹5.0 last year. This works out to be a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of approximately 13% a year over that time. The growth in dividends has not been linear, but the CAGR is a decent approximation of the rate of change over this time frame.
So, its dividends have grown at a rapid rate over this time, but payments have been cut in the past. The stock may still be worth considering as part of a diversified dividend portfolio.
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. ITC has grown its earnings per share at 6.8% per annum over the past five years. Although per-share earnings are growing at a credible rate, virtually all of the income is being paid out as dividends to shareholders. This is okay, but may limit growth in the company's future dividend payments.
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 not keen on the fact that ITC paid out such a high percentage of its income, although its cashflow is in better shape. Second, earnings growth has been ordinary, and its history of dividend payments is chequered - having cut its dividend at least once in the past. With this information in mind, we think ITC may not be an ideal dividend stock.
Market movements attest to how highly valued a consistent dividend policy is compared to one which is more unpredictable. At the same time, there are other factors our readers should be conscious of before pouring capital into a stock. To that end, ITC has 2 warning signs (and 1 which is concerning) we think you should know about.
Looking for more high-yielding dividend ideas? Try our curated list of dividend stocks with a yield 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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