Today we'll take a closer look at CenterPoint Energy, Inc. (NYSE:CNP) 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. 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, CenterPoint Energy 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. Some simple analysis can offer a lot of insights when buying a company for its dividend, and we'll go through this below.
Companies (usually) pay dividends out of their earnings. If a company is paying more than it earns, the dividend might have to be cut. 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. While CenterPoint Energy pays a dividend, it reported a loss over the last year. When a company is loss-making, we next need to check to see if its cash flows can support the dividend.
Last year, CenterPoint Energy 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 CenterPoint Energy 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. For the purpose of this article, we only scrutinise the last decade of CenterPoint Energy's dividend payments. The dividend has been cut on at least one occasion historically. During the past 10-year period, the first annual payment was US$0.8 in 2011, compared to US$0.6 last year. The dividend has shrunk at around 2.0% a year during that period. CenterPoint Energy's dividend hasn't shrunk linearly at 2.0% per annum, but the CAGR is a useful estimate of the historical rate of change.
When a company's per-share dividend falls we question if this reflects poorly on either external business conditions, or the company's capital allocation decisions. 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. Earnings have grown at around 8.3% a year for the past five years, which is better than seeing them shrink! Earnings per share have been growing at a credible rate. What's more, the payout ratio is reasonable and provides some protection to the dividend, or even the potential to increase it.
We'd also point out that CenterPoint Energy issued a meaningful number of new shares in the past year. Regularly issuing new shares can be detrimental - it's hard to grow dividends per share when new shares are regularly being created.
To summarise, shareholders should always check that CenterPoint Energy's dividends are affordable, that its dividend payments are relatively stable, and that it has decent prospects for growing its earnings and dividend. CenterPoint Energy's dividend is not well covered by free cash flow, plus it paid a dividend while being unprofitable. We were also glad to see it growing earnings, but it was concerning to see the dividend has been cut at least once in the past. In summary, CenterPoint Energy has a number of shortcomings that we'd find it hard to get past. Things could change, but we think there are a number of better ideas out there.
It's important to note that companies having a consistent dividend policy will generate greater investor confidence than those having an erratic one. At the same time, there are other factors our readers should be conscious of before pouring capital into a stock. To that end, CenterPoint Energy has 3 warning signs (and 1 which shouldn't be ignored) we think 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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