Regular readers will know that we love our dividends at Simply Wall St, which is why it's exciting to see Norfolk Southern Corporation (NYSE:NSC) is about to trade ex-dividend in the next 4 days. The ex-dividend date is usually set to be one business day before the record date which is the cut-off date on which you must be present on the company's books as a shareholder in order to receive the dividend. The ex-dividend date is important as the process of settlement involves two full business days. So if you miss that date, you would not show up on the company's books on the record date. Meaning, you will need to purchase Norfolk Southern's shares before the 3rd of February to receive the dividend, which will be paid on the 21st of February.
The company's next dividend payment will be US$1.24 per share, on the back of last year when the company paid a total of US$4.96 to shareholders. Looking at the last 12 months of distributions, Norfolk Southern has a trailing yield of approximately 1.8% on its current stock price of $271.99. Dividends are a major contributor to investment returns for long term holders, but only if the dividend continues to be paid. That's why we should always check whether the dividend payments appear sustainable, and if the company is growing.
If a company pays out more in dividends than it earned, then the dividend might become unsustainable - hardly an ideal situation. That's why it's good to see Norfolk Southern paying out a modest 34% of its earnings. 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. Fortunately, it paid out only 37% of its free cash flow in the past year.
It's positive to see that Norfolk Southern'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. Fortunately for readers, Norfolk Southern's earnings per share have been growing at 17% a year for the past five years. Earnings per share are growing rapidly and the company is keeping more than half of its earnings within the business; an attractive combination which could suggest the company is focused on reinvesting to grow earnings further. This will make it easier to fund future growth efforts and we think this is an attractive combination - plus the dividend can always be increased later.
Many investors will assess a company's dividend performance by evaluating how much the dividend payments have changed over time. Norfolk Southern has delivered 12% dividend growth per year on average over the past 10 years. Both per-share earnings and dividends have both been growing rapidly in recent times, which is great to see.
The Bottom Line
Should investors buy Norfolk Southern for the upcoming dividend? Norfolk Southern has been growing earnings at a rapid rate, and has a conservatively low payout ratio, implying that it is reinvesting heavily in its business; a sterling combination. Overall we think this is an attractive combination and worthy of further research.
While it's tempting to invest in Norfolk Southern for the dividends alone, you should always be mindful of the risks involved. For example, we've found 1 warning sign for Norfolk Southern that we recommend you consider before investing in the business.
If you're in the market for dividend stocks, we recommend checking our list of top dividend stocks with a greater than 2% yield and an upcoming dividend.
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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.
The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.