Regular readers will know that we love our dividends at Simply Wall St, which is why it's exciting to see ITC Limited (NSE:ITC) is about to trade ex-dividend in the next 3 days. The ex-dividend date is one business day before the record date, which is the cut-off date for shareholders to be present on the company's books to be eligible for a dividend payment. The ex-dividend date is of consequence because whenever a stock is bought or sold, the trade takes at least two business day to settle. In other words, investors can purchase ITC's shares before the 10th of June in order to be eligible for the dividend, which will be paid on the 13th of August.
The company's upcoming dividend is ₹5.75 a share, following on from the last 12 months, when the company distributed a total of ₹10.00 per share to shareholders. Based on the last year's worth of payments, ITC has a trailing yield of 5.5% on the current stock price of ₹208.75. Dividends are a major contributor to investment returns for long term holders, but only if the dividend continues to be paid. We need to see whether the dividend is covered by earnings and if it's growing.
Dividends are typically paid from company earnings. If a company pays more in dividends than it earned in profit, then the dividend could be unsustainable. Last year ITC paid out 100% of its profits as dividends to shareholders, suggesting the dividend is not well covered by earnings. Yet cash flows are even more important than profits for assessing a dividend, so we need to see if the company generated enough cash to pay its distribution. Over the past year it paid out 177% of its free cash flow as dividends, which is uncomfortably high. It's hard to consistently pay out more cash than you generate without either borrowing or using company cash, so we'd wonder how the company justifies this payout level.
Cash is slightly more important than profit from a dividend perspective, but given ITC's payments were not well covered by either earnings or cash flow, we are concerned about the sustainability of this dividend.
Have Earnings And Dividends Been Growing?
Companies with consistently growing earnings per share generally make the best dividend stocks, as they usually find it easier to grow dividends per share. If earnings fall far enough, the company could be forced to cut its dividend. This is why it's a relief to see ITC earnings per share are up 6.7% per annum over the last five years. Earnings per share have been growing comfortably, although unfortunately the company is paying out more of its profits than we're comfortable with over the long term.
Another key way to measure a company's dividend prospects is by measuring its historical rate of dividend growth. In the last 10 years, ITC has lifted its dividend by approximately 20% a year on average. It's encouraging to see the company lifting dividends while earnings are growing, suggesting at least some corporate interest in rewarding shareholders.
To Sum It Up
From a dividend perspective, should investors buy or avoid ITC? ITC is paying out an uncomfortably high percentage of both earnings and cash flow as dividends, although at least earnings per share are growing somewhat. It's not the most attractive proposition from a dividend perspective, and we'd probably give this one a miss for now.
Although, if you're still interested in ITC and want to know more, you'll find it very useful to know what risks this stock faces. For example - ITC has 2 warning signs we think you should be aware of.
We wouldn't recommend just buying the first dividend stock you see, though. Here's a list of interesting dividend stocks with a greater than 2% yield and an upcoming dividend.
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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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