November 30, 2021

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Here’s How We Evaluate Northwest Natural Holding Company’s (NYSE:NWN) Dividend

Today we’ll take a closer look at Northwest Natural Holding Company (NYSE:NWN) 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. On the other hand, investors have been known to buy a stock because of its yield, and then lose money if the company’s dividend doesn’t live up to expectations.

A high yield and a long history of paying dividends is an appealing combination for Northwest Natural Holding. We’d guess that plenty of investors have purchased it for the income. There are a few simple ways to reduce the risks of buying Northwest Natural Holding for its dividend, and we’ll go through these below.

Click the interactive chart for our full dividend analysis

NYSE:NWN Historical Dividend Yield April 16th 2020

Payout ratios

Dividends are usually paid out of company earnings. If a company is paying more than it earns, 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. Looking at the data, we can see that 87% of Northwest Natural Holding’s profits were paid out as dividends in the last 12 months. Paying out a majority of its earnings limits the amount that can be reinvested in the business. This may indicate a commitment to paying a dividend, or a dearth of investment opportunities.

In addition to comparing dividends against profits, we should inspect whether the company generated enough cash to pay its dividend. Unfortunately, while Northwest Natural Holding pays a dividend, it also reported negative free cash flow last year. While there may be a good reason for this, it’s not ideal from a dividend perspective.

Is Northwest Natural Holding’s Balance Sheet Risky?

As Northwest Natural Holding 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 4.33 times its EBITDA, investors are starting to take on a meaningful amount of risk, should the business enter a downturn.

Net interest cover can be calculated by dividing earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) by the company’s net interest expense. With EBIT of 3.18 times its interest expense, Northwest Natural Holding’s interest cover is starting to look a bit thin.

We update our data on Northwest Natural Holding every 24 hours, so you can always get our latest analysis of its financial health, here.

Dividend Volatility

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 Northwest Natural Holding’s dividend payments. During this period the dividend has been stable, which could imply the business could have relatively consistent earnings power. During the past ten-year period, the first annual payment was US$1.58 in 2010, compared to US$1.91 last year. Dividends per share have grown at approximately 1.9% per year over this time.

Slow and steady dividend growth might not sound that exciting, but dividends have been stable for ten years, which we think is seriously impressive.

Dividend Growth Potential

While dividend payments have been relatively reliable, it would also be nice if earnings per share (EPS) were growing, as this is essential to maintaining the dividend’s purchasing power over the long term. Northwest Natural Holding’s earnings per share have been essentially flat over the past five years. Flat earnings per share are acceptable for a time, but over the long term, the purchasing power of the company’s dividends could be eroded by inflation. Earnings are not growing quickly at all, and the company is paying out most of its profit as dividends. When the rate of return on reinvestment opportunities falls below a certain minimum level, companies often elect to pay a larger dividend instead. This is why many mature companies often have larger dividend yields.

We’d also point out that Northwest Natural Holding 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.

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. First, the company has a payout ratio that was within an average range for most dividend stocks, but it paid out virtually all of its generated cash flow. Second, earnings growth is pretty limited, but at least the dividends have been relatively stable. Ultimately, Northwest Natural Holding 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. Meanwhile, despite the importance of dividend payments, they are not the only factors our readers should know when assessing a company. To that end, Northwest Natural Holding has 2 warning signs (and 1 which can’t be ignored) we think you should know about.

We have also put together a list of global stocks with a market capitalisation above $1bn and yielding more 3%.

If you spot an error that warrants correction, please contact the editor at [email protected] 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.

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. Thank you for reading.

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