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Today we’ll take a closer look at Halliburton Company (NYSE:HAL) from a dividend investor’s perspective. Owning a strong business and reinvesting the dividends is widely seen as an attractive way of growing your wealth. Unfortunately, it’s common for investors to be enticed in by the seemingly attractive yield, and lose money when the company has to cut its dividend payments.
In this case, Halliburton likely looks attractive to investors, given its 3.1% 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 bought back stock during the year, equivalent to approximately 1.0% of the company’s market capitalisation at the time. 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. So we need to form a view on if a company’s dividend is sustainable, relative to its net profit after tax. In the last year, Halliburton paid out 36% of its profit as dividends. This is a medium payout level that leaves enough capital in the business to fund opportunities that might arise, while also rewarding shareholders. Besides, if reinvestment opportunities dry up, the company has room to increase the dividend.
In addition to comparing dividends against profits, we should inspect whether the company generated enough cash to pay its dividend. Halliburton paid out 109% of its free cash last year. Cash flows can be lumpy, but this dividend was not well covered by cash flow. Halliburton paid out less in dividends than it reported in profits, but unfortunately it didn’t generate enough free cash flow to cover the dividend. Were it to repeatedly pay dividends that were not well covered by cash flow, this could be a risk to Halliburton’s ability to maintain its dividend.
Is Halliburton’s Balance Sheet Risky?
As Halliburton has a meaningful amount of debt, we need to check its balance sheet to see if the company might have debt risks. A quick check of its financial situation can be done with two ratios: net debt divided by EBITDA (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation), and net interest cover. Net debt to EBITDA measures total debt load relative to company earnings (lower = less debt), while net interest cover measures the ability to pay interest on the debt (higher = greater ability to pay interest costs). With net debt of 2.18 times its EBITDA, Halliburton’s debt burden is within a normal range for most listed companies.
We calculated its interest cover by measuring its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT), and dividing this by the company’s net interest expense. Interest cover of 4.56 times its interest expense is starting to become a concern for Halliburton, and be aware that lenders may place additional restrictions on the company as well.
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. Halliburton has been paying dividends for a long time, but for the purpose of this analysis, we only examine the past 10 years of payments. The dividend has been stable over the past 10 years, which is great. We think this could suggest some resilience to the business and its dividends. During the past ten-year period, the first annual payment was US$0.36 in 2009, compared to US$0.72 last year. Dividends per share have grown at approximately 7.2% per year over this time.
Companies like this, growing their dividend at a decent rate, can be very valuable over the long term, if the rate of growth can be maintained.
Dividend Growth Potential
Dividend payments have been consistent over the past few years, but we should always check if earnings per share (EPS) are growing, as this will help maintain the purchasing power of the dividend. In the last five years, Halliburton’s earnings per share have shrunk at approximately 3.0% per annum. If earnings continue to decline, the dividend may come under pressure. Every investor should make an assessment of whether the company is taking steps to stabilise the situation.
When we look at a dividend stock, we need to form a judgement on whether the dividend will grow, if the company is able to maintain it in a wide range of economic circumstances, and if the dividend payout is sustainable. First, we like Halliburton’s low dividend payout ratio, although we’re a bit concerned that it paid out a substantially higher percentage of its free cash flow. Second, earnings per share have actually shrunk, but at least the dividends have been relatively stable. In sum, we find it hard to get excited about Halliburton 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 29 analysts we track are forecasting for the future.
We have also put together a list of global stocks with a market capitalisation above $1bn and yielding more 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.