3 popular blue-chip shares at risk of dividend cuts

Credit: Scott Lewis

Dividend payouts often make up a substantial proportion of an investor’s decision about whether to invest in a company. If a company has a dividend that is in excess of what cash in a bank account is earning, the theory goes, then it is worth considering as an “income” stock.

However, it pays to be wary of dividends as income, because unlike cash in the bank, dividends are at the mercy of company earnings, and company earnings can be volatile.

The three stocks on this list are often described as “blue-chip” stocks that also provide income, but they may also be at risk of lower dividend payouts in the future.

Do you own any of them?

Woolworths Limited (ASX: WOW) has a well-documented tale of woe beginning about 18 months ago, and it hasn’t shown firm signs of a turnaround just yet.

Masters might be sold off soon, but the general consensus is that the margins that Woolies is earning in its core supermarkets division have further to fall. Put simply, Coles and Aldi are consolidating their earnings, while also earning lower margins, which means that Woolies has further to fall, as it is clear that shoppers are not being won back to Woolworths on price.

In addition, there are now media reports of a less rational, more damaging “price war” among the supermarket majors if Woolworths cannot arrest its earnings slide. If German discounter Lidl joins the fray, this process will likely be accelerated, in line with what has happened overseas.

With falling earnings, a need to reinvest in lower prices and the threat of a price war, Woolworths’ future dividend looks at risk of further falls.

Telstra Corporation Ltd (ASX: TLS) has also had some troubles lately, which is not news for any Telstra customers reading this post. Telstra has often been described as the “Volvo” of Australian telecommunications: yes, it is a little more expensive, but it’s reliable and it won’t let you down.

Unfortunately, Telstra’s reputation for reliability has taken a serious hit due to two large scale and well-publicised outages on its network. This could not have come at a worse time, as the company was already losing ground in the battle for mobile subscribers.

In addition, the free data download days that the company has offered will cut into earnings that it would normally make by levying excess data charges on customers. The company also has limited growth options to pursue, with the Australian market mature, and initiatives in emerging markets like the Philippines abandoned in recent times.

The dividend at Telstra may not seem likely to fall, but lower subscriber numbers and an unclear growth trajectory might have exactly that effect.

The share prices of all the major banks have taken a battering lately, but Australia and New Zealand Banking Group (ASX: ANZ) has been particularly badly hit.

Alongside the broad sector concerns about an overheated housing market, ANZ has two other major headaches on its hands.

The first is an overexposure to poorly performing Asian operations, which have acted as a handbrake on growth as these operations generate returns that are below those of the domestic operations.

The second is a heavier-than-expected exposure to the flagging mining sector, with the expectation that defaults and poorly performing loans will increase, resulting in additional provisions for loan write offs that caused the share price to fall by over 10% in less than two weeks.

ANZ could be forced to reduce its dividend payout ratio to compensate for these factors and the resulting impairments to its balance sheet.

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Motley Fool contributor Ry Padarath has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool Australia has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. This article contains general investment advice only (under AFSL 400691). Authorised by Bruce Jackson.

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