Zooming in on NYSE:SQM’s 3.4% Dividend Yield

Could Sociedad Química y Minera de Chile S.A. (NYSE:SQM) be an attractive dividend share to own for the long haul? Investors are often drawn to strong companies with the idea of reinvesting the dividends. If you are hoping to live on your dividends, it’s important to be more stringent with your investments than the average punter. Regular readers know we like to apply the same approach to each dividend stock, and we hope you’ll find our analysis useful.

In this case, Sociedad Química y Minera de Chile likely looks attractive to investors, given its 3.4% 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. That said, the recent jump in the share price will make Sociedad Química y Minera de Chile’s dividend yield look smaller, even though the company prospects could be improving. When buying stocks for their dividends, you should always run through the checks below, to see if the dividend looks sustainable.

Click the interactive chart for our full dividend analysis

historic-dividend
NYSE:SQM Historic Dividend August 11th 2020

Payout ratios

Dividends are typically paid from company earnings. If a company pays more in dividends than it earned, then the dividend might become unsustainable – hardly an ideal situation. Comparing dividend payments to a company’s net profit after tax is a simple way of reality-checking whether a dividend is sustainable. Sociedad Química y Minera de Chile paid out 100% of its profit as dividends, over the trailing twelve month period. Its payout ratio is quite high, and the dividend is not well covered by earnings. If earnings are growing or the company has a large cash balance, this might be sustainable – still, we think it is a concern.

Another important check we do is to see if the free cash flow generated is sufficient to pay the dividend. Sociedad Química y Minera de Chile paid out 785% of its free cash flow last year, suggesting the dividend is poorly covered by cash flow. 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. As Sociedad Química y Minera de Chile’s dividend was not well covered by either earnings or cash flow, we would be concerned that this dividend could be at risk over the long term.

We update our data on Sociedad Química y Minera de Chile every 24 hours, so you can always get our latest analysis of its financial health, here.

Dividend Volatility

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. For the purpose of this article, we only scrutinise the last decade of Sociedad Química y Minera de Chile’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 US$1.2 in 2010, compared to US$1.1 last year. This works out to be a decline of approximately 1.6% per year over that time. Sociedad Química y Minera de Chile’s dividend has been cut sharply at least once, so it hasn’t fallen by 1.6% every year, but this is a decent approximation of the long term change.

A shrinking dividend over a 10-year period is not ideal, and we’d be concerned about investing in a dividend stock that lacks a solid record of growing dividends per share.

Dividend Growth Potential

With a relatively unstable dividend, it’s even more important to see if earnings per share (EPS) are growing. Why take the risk of a dividend getting cut, unless there’s a good chance of bigger dividends in future? While there may be fluctuations in the past , Sociedad Química y Minera de Chile’s earnings per share have basically not grown from where they were five years ago. Over the long term, steady earnings per share is a risk as the value of the dividends can be reduced by inflation. Still, the company has struggled to grow its EPS, and currently pays out 100% of its earnings. Limited recent earnings growth and a high payout ratio makes it hard for us to envision strong future dividend growth, unless the company should have substantial pricing power or some form of competitive advantage.

Conclusion

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. We’re a bit uncomfortable with Sociedad Química y Minera de Chile paying out a high percentage of both its cashflow and earnings. Unfortunately, the company has not been able to generate earnings growth, and cut its dividend at least once in the past. In this analysis, Sociedad Química y Minera de Chile doesn’t shape up too well as a dividend stock. We’d find it hard to look past the flaws, and would not be inclined to think of it as a reliable dividend-payer.

Market movements attest to how highly valued a consistent dividend policy is compared to one which is more unpredictable. Meanwhile, despite the importance of dividend payments, they are not the only factors our readers should know when assessing a company. Just as an example, we’ve come accross 3 warning signs for Sociedad Química y Minera de Chile you should be aware of, and 1 of them can’t be ignored.

If you are a dividend investor, you might also want to look at our curated list of dividend stocks yielding above 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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