Want to participate in a short research study? Help shape the future of investing tools and you could win a $250 gift card!
Is ConocoPhillips (NYSE:COP) a good dividend stock? How would you know? Dividend paying companies with growing earnings can be highly rewarding in the long term. 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.
A 2.0% yield is nothing to get excited about, but investors probably think the long payment history suggests ConocoPhillips has some staying power. The company also bought back stock equivalent to around 4.6% of market capitalisation this year. When buying stocks for their dividends, you should always run through the checks below, to see if the dividend looks sustainable.
Companies (usually) pay dividends out of their earnings. If a company is paying more than it earns, the dividend might have to be cut. Comparing dividend payments to a company’s net profit after tax is a simple way of reality-checking whether a dividend is sustainable. ConocoPhillips paid out 19% of its profit as dividends, over the trailing twelve month period. We’d say its dividends are thoroughly covered by earnings.
We also measure dividends paid against a company’s levered free cash flow, to see if enough cash was generated to cover the dividend. ConocoPhillips paid out 21% of its free cash flow as dividends last year, which is conservative and suggests the dividend is sustainable. It’s encouraging to see that the dividend is covered by both profit and cash flow. This generally suggests the dividend is sustainable, as long as earnings don’t drop precipitously.
Remember, you can always get a snapshot of ConocoPhillips’s latest financial position, by checking our visualisation of its financial health.
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. ConocoPhillips 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 fallen by 20% or more on at least one occasion over the past ten years. During the past ten-year period, the first annual payment was US$1.88 in 2009, compared to US$1.22 last year. This works out to be a decline of approximately 4.2% per year over that time. ConocoPhillips’s dividend has been cut sharply at least once, so it hasn’t fallen by 4.2% 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 the business or management. Either way, we find it hard to get excited about a company with a declining dividend.
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. ConocoPhillips’s EPS are effectively flat over the past five years. 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.
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. First, we like that the company’s dividend payments appear well covered, although the retained capital also needs to be effectively reinvested. Second, earnings per share have been in decline, and its dividend has been cut at least once in the past. In sum, we find it hard to get excited about ConocoPhillips from a dividend perspective. It’s not that we think it’s a bad business; just that there are other companies that perform better on these criteria.
Without at least some growth in earnings per share over time, the dividend will eventually come under pressure either from costs or inflation. Very few businesses see earnings consistently shrink year after year in perpetuity though, and so it might be worth seeing what the 12 analysts we track are forecasting for the future.
Looking for more high-yielding dividend ideas? Try our curated list of dividend stocks with a yield above 3%.
We aim to bring you long-term focused research analysis driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis may not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements or qualitative material.
If you spot an error that warrants correction, please contact the editor at email@example.com. 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. Simply Wall St has no position in the stocks mentioned. Thank you for reading.