Is Eni S.p.A. (BIT:ENI) 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, Eni likely looks attractive to investors, given its 8.4% 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. The company also returned around 1.5% of its market capitalisation to shareholders in the form of stock buybacks over the past year. There are a few simple ways to reduce the risks of buying Eni for its dividend, and we'll go through these below.
Companies (usually) pay dividends out of their earnings. If a company is paying more than it earns, the dividend might have to be cut. 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. While Eni pays a dividend, it reported a loss over the last year. When a company recently reported a loss, we should investigate if its cash flows covered the dividend.
Eni paid out 207% of its free cash flow last year, which we think is concerning if cash flows do not improve. Paying out such a high percentage of cash flow suggests that the dividend was funded from either cash at bank or by borrowing, neither of which is desirable over the long term.
We update our data on Eni every 24 hours, so you can always get our latest analysis of its financial health, 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. For the purpose of this article, we only scrutinise the last decade of Eni'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 €1.0 in 2010, compared to €0.6 last year. The dividend has shrunk at around 5.8% a year during that period. Eni's dividend has been cut sharply at least once, so it hasn't fallen by 5.8% every year, but this is a decent approximation of the long term change.
When a company's per-share dividend falls we question if this reflects poorly on either external business conditions, or the company's capital allocation decisions. Either way, we find it hard to get excited about a company with a declining dividend.
Dividend Growth Potential
With a relatively unstable dividend, and a poor history of shrinking dividends, it's even more important to see if EPS are growing. It's good to see Eni has been growing its earnings per share at 32% a year over the past five years.
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 Eni paying a dividend while loss-making, especially since the dividend was also not well covered by free cash flow. We were also glad to see it growing earnings, but it was concerning to see the dividend has been cut at least once in the past. Overall, Eni falls short in several key areas here. Unless the investor has strong grounds for an alternative conclusion, we find it hard to get interested in a dividend stock with these characteristics.
Market movements attest to how highly valued a consistent dividend policy is compared to one which is more unpredictable. However, there are other things to consider for investors when analysing stock performance. For example, we've picked out 2 warning signs for Eni that investors should know about before committing capital to this stock.
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.
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