Dividend paying stocks like NortonLifeLock Inc. (NASDAQ:NLOK) tend to be popular with investors, and for good reason - some research suggests a significant amount of all stock market returns come from reinvested 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.
With a 2.3% yield and a eight-year payment history, investors probably think NortonLifeLock looks like a reliable dividend stock. While the yield may not look too great, the relatively long payment history is interesting. During the year, the company also conducted a buyback equivalent to around 6.8% of its market capitalisation. Some simple analysis can offer a lot of insights when buying a company for its dividend, and we'll go through this below.
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. 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. Looking at the data, we can see that 47% of NortonLifeLock's profits were paid out as dividends in the last 12 months. This is a middling range that strikes a nice balance between paying dividends to shareholders, and retaining enough earnings to invest in future growth. Plus, there is room to increase the payout ratio over time.
Another important check we do is to see if the free cash flow generated is sufficient to pay the dividend. Last year, NortonLifeLock paid a dividend while reporting negative free cash flow. While there may be an explanation, we think this behaviour is generally not sustainable.
We update our data on NortonLifeLock every 24 hours, so you can always get our latest analysis of its financial health, here.
Before buying a stock for its income, we want to see if the dividends have been stable in the past, and if the company has a track record of maintaining its dividend. The first recorded dividend for NortonLifeLock, in the last decade, was eight years ago. Although it has been paying a dividend for several years now, the dividend has been cut at least once, and we're cautious about the consistency of its dividend across a full economic cycle. During the past eight-year period, the first annual payment was US$0.6 in 2013, compared to US$0.5 last year. The dividend has shrunk at around 2.3% a year during that period. NortonLifeLock's dividend hasn't shrunk linearly at 2.3% per annum, but the CAGR is a useful estimate of the historical rate of change.
A shrinking dividend over a eight-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 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. It's good to see NortonLifeLock has been growing its earnings per share at 24% a year over the past five years. Earnings per share have rocketed in recent times, and we like that the company is retaining more than half of its earnings to reinvest. However, always remember that very few companies can grow at double digit rates forever.
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. Firstly, the company has a conservative payout ratio, although we'd note that its cashflow in the past year was substantially lower than its reported profit. Next, earnings growth has been good, but unfortunately the dividend has been cut at least once in the past. Ultimately, NortonLifeLock comes up short on our dividend analysis. It's not that we think it is a bad company - just that there are likely more appealing dividend prospects out there on this analysis.
Companies possessing a stable dividend policy will likely enjoy greater investor interest than those suffering from a more inconsistent approach. However, there are other things to consider for investors when analysing stock performance. Case in point: We've spotted 4 warning signs for NortonLifeLock (of which 3 are a bit concerning!) you should know about.
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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