The board of Mercury NZ Limited (NZSE:MCY) has announced that it will be paying its dividend of NZ$0.1024 on the 3rd of April, an increased payment from last year's comparable dividend. Despite this raise, the dividend yield of 3.1% is only a modest boost to shareholder returns.
Mercury NZ Is Paying Out More Than It Is Earning
If it is predictable over a long period, even low dividend yields can be attractive. Prior to this announcement, the company was paying out 104% of what it was earning, however the dividend was quite comfortably covered by free cash flows at a cash payout ratio of only 67%. Given that the dividend is a cash outflow, we think that cash is more important than accounting measures of profit when assessing the dividend, so this is a mitigating factor.
EPS is set to fall by 3.4% over the next 12 months. If the dividend continues along the path it has been on recently, the payout ratio in 12 months could be 135%, which is definitely a bit high to be sustainable going forward.
Mercury NZ's Dividend Has Lacked Consistency
Mercury NZ has been paying dividends for a while, but the track record isn't stellar. If the company cuts once, it definitely isn't argument against the possibility of it cutting in the future. Since 2014, the dividend has gone from NZ$0.13 total annually to NZ$0.20. This means that it has been growing its distributions at 4.9% per annum over that time. We're glad to see the dividend has risen, but with a limited rate of growth and fluctuations in the payments the total shareholder return may be limited.
Mercury NZ May Have Challenges Growing The Dividend
With a relatively unstable dividend, it's even more important to evaluate if earnings per share is growing, which could point to a growing dividend in the future. Mercury NZ has seen EPS rising for the last five years, at 5.9% per annum. While EPS is growing at a decent rate, but future growth could be limited by the amount of earnings being paid out to shareholders.
Our Thoughts On Mercury NZ's Dividend
In summary, while it's always good to see the dividend being raised, we don't think Mercury NZ's payments are rock solid. The company is generating plenty of cash, which could maintain the dividend for a while, but the track record hasn't been great. We would probably look elsewhere for an income investment.
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. For example, we've picked out 2 warning signs for Mercury NZ 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 high yield dividend stocks.
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