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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 Marathon Oil Corporation (NYSE:MRO) is about to go ex-dividend in just 3 days. The ex-dividend date is one business day before the record date, which is the cut-off date for shareholders to be present on the company's books to be eligible for a dividend payment. 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. In other words, investors can purchase Marathon Oil's shares before the 17th of May in order to be eligible for the dividend, which will be paid on the 10th of June.
The company's next dividend payment will be US$0.08 per share. Last year, in total, the company distributed US$0.32 to shareholders. Looking at the last 12 months of distributions, Marathon Oil has a trailing yield of approximately 1.3% on its current stock price of $25.13. We love seeing companies pay a dividend, but it's also important to be sure that laying the golden eggs isn't going to kill our golden goose! So we need to check whether the dividend payments are covered, and if earnings are growing.
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. Marathon Oil is paying out just 9.3% of its profit after tax, which is comfortably low and leaves plenty of breathing room in the case of adverse events. Yet cash flow is typically more important than profit for assessing dividend sustainability, so we should always check if the company generated enough cash to afford its dividend. The good news is it paid out just 6.8% of its free cash flow in the last year.
It's positive to see that Marathon Oil's dividend is covered by both profits and cash flow, since this is generally a sign that the dividend is sustainable, and a lower payout ratio usually suggests a greater margin of safety before the dividend gets cut.
Have Earnings And Dividends Been Growing?
Stocks in companies that generate sustainable earnings growth often make the best dividend prospects, as it is easier to lift the dividend when earnings are rising. If earnings fall far enough, the company could be forced to cut its dividend. It's encouraging to see Marathon Oil has grown its earnings rapidly, up 29% a year for the past five years. Marathon Oil looks like a real growth company, with earnings per share growing at a cracking pace and the company reinvesting most of its profits in the business.
Another key way to measure a company's dividend prospects is by measuring its historical rate of dividend growth. Marathon Oil's dividend payments per share have declined at 6.1% per year on average over the past 10 years, which is uninspiring. Marathon Oil is a rare case where dividends have been decreasing at the same time as earnings per share have been improving. It's unusual to see, and could point to unstable conditions in the core business, or more rarely an intensified focus on reinvesting profits.
The Bottom Line
Is Marathon Oil worth buying for its dividend? It's great that Marathon Oil is growing earnings per share while simultaneously paying out a low percentage of both its earnings and cash flow. It's disappointing to see the dividend has been cut at least once in the past, but as things stand now, the low payout ratio suggests a conservative approach to dividends, which we like. There's a lot to like about Marathon Oil, and we would prioritise taking a closer look at it.
With that in mind, a critical part of thorough stock research is being aware of any risks that stock currently faces. To help with this, we've discovered 2 warning signs for Marathon Oil (1 is concerning!) that you ought to be aware of before buying the shares.
A common investing mistake is buying the first interesting stock you see. Here you can find a full list of high-yield dividend stocks.
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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.