Some investors rely on dividends for growing their wealth, and if you're one of those dividend sleuths, you might be intrigued to know that Spark New Zealand Limited (NZSE:SPK) is about to go ex-dividend in just 4 days. The ex-dividend date occurs one day before the record date which is the day on which shareholders need to be on the company's books in order to receive a dividend. The ex-dividend date is of consequence because whenever a stock is bought or sold, the trade takes at least two business day to settle. Therefore, if you purchase Spark New Zealand's shares on or after the 16th of September, you won't be eligible to receive the dividend, when it is paid on the 1st of October.
The company's next dividend payment will be NZ$0.15 per share, on the back of last year when the company paid a total of NZ$0.25 to shareholders. Based on the last year's worth of payments, Spark New Zealand has a trailing yield of 5.2% on the current stock price of NZ$4.83. Dividends are a major contributor to investment returns for long term holders, but only if the dividend continues to be paid. So we need to investigate whether Spark New Zealand can afford its dividend, and if the dividend could grow.
Dividends are usually paid out of company profits, so if a company pays out more than it earned then its dividend is usually at greater risk of being cut. Spark New Zealand distributed an unsustainably high 121% of its profit as dividends to shareholders last year. Without more sustainable payment behaviour, the dividend looks precarious. Yet cash flows are even more important than profits for assessing a dividend, so we need to see if the company generated enough cash to pay its distribution. Over the last year it paid out 71% of its free cash flow as dividends, within the usual range for most companies.
It's disappointing to see that the dividend was not covered by profits, but cash is more important from a dividend sustainability perspective, and Spark New Zealand fortunately did generate enough cash to fund its dividend. If executives were to continue paying more in dividends than the company reported in profits, we'd view this as a warning sign. Extraordinarily few companies are capable of persistently paying a dividend that is greater than their profits.
Have Earnings And Dividends Been Growing?
Companies that aren't growing their earnings can still be valuable, but it is even more important to assess the sustainability of the dividend if it looks like the company will struggle to grow. If earnings fall far enough, the company could be forced to cut its dividend. That explains why we're not overly excited about Spark New Zealand's flat earnings over the past five years. It's better than seeing them drop, certainly, but over the long term, all of the best dividend stocks are able to meaningfully grow their earnings per share.
Many investors will assess a company's dividend performance by evaluating how much the dividend payments have changed over time. In the past 10 years, Spark New Zealand has increased its dividend at approximately 6.0% a year on average.
The Bottom Line
Should investors buy Spark New Zealand for the upcoming dividend? Flat earnings per share and a high payout ratio are not what we like to see, although at least it paid out a lower percentage of its free cash flow. It's not that we think Spark New Zealand is a bad company, but these characteristics don't generally lead to outstanding dividend performance.
Although, if you're still interested in Spark New Zealand and want to know more, you'll find it very useful to know what risks this stock faces. To help with this, we've discovered 2 warning signs for Spark New Zealand (1 can't be ignored!) that you ought to be aware of before buying the shares.
We wouldn't recommend just buying the first dividend stock you see, though. Here's a list of interesting dividend stocks with a greater than 2% yield and an upcoming dividend.
This article by Simply Wall St is general in nature. We provide commentary based on historical data and analyst forecasts only using an unbiased methodology and our articles are not intended to be financial advice. 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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