When will Pilbara Minerals resume paying dividends?

Pilbara hasn't paid out a dividend in 2024 yet.

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Cast your minds back to early 2023. Lithium shares across the ASX were riding high – exemplified by the ASX's largest lithium stock, Pilbara Minerals Ltd (ASX: PLS), announcing its first-ever dividend payment.

In March 2023, investors received an interim dividend of 11 cents per share (fully franked) from Pilbara Minerals shares. This was a big deal. Dividends from lithium stocks were as rare as hen's teeth at the time. So, investors heralded this payment as a turn of a new leaf for the Australian lithium sector.

Pilbara Minerals would go on to pay another final dividend in 2023 — the final payout of 14 cents per share that was doled out in September.

But as we traverse April of 2024, the landscape has tangibly shifted. Most ASX lithium shares, including Pilbara Minerals, have had a horrid six months. Between August 2023 and January 2024, the Pilbara share price lost a third of its value.

The back end of 2023 saw lithium prices crater, which dampened investor enthusiasm for this once-hot sector. Just as Pilbara Mineral's maiden dividend seemed to herald a new era for lithium shares, its decision to deny shareholders a third consecutive dividend payment this March epitomised the troubled waters that the sector is navigating this year.

Yes, Pilbara's February earnings report didn't contain too many numbers that would get investors excited. The company revealed a 65% drop in revenues to $757 million, as well as a 77% slump in earnings to $415 million. Underlying profits after tax also plunged 78% to $273 million.

So in light of those numbers, it's perhaps not really a surprise investors weren't treated to a dividend in the following month.

As such, Pilbara Minerals shareholders that have held on through these ups and downs might be wondering when their next dividend might be.

When will Pilbara Minerals shares start paying out dividends again?

It's fairly hard to predict what any company's future dividends might be, let alone a commodity-based stock like Pilbara. This company's ability to fund shareholder payouts is almost entirely reliant on the global price of lithium. This, like all commodity prices, is difficult to forecast over a six-month or one-year period.

However, we can look at some expert predictions.

As reported in the Australian Financial Review (AFR) this week, ASX broker Morgan Stanley has done some work on forecasting what the dividends from some of the ASX's major mining shares over the next year or two might look like.

It's not pleasant reading for owners of mining shares.

Morgan Stanley estimates that the dividends from big iron miners like Fortescue Ltd (ASX: FMG) and particularly BHP Group Ltd (ASX: BHP) are "at risk" going forward.

But the dividend outlook for Pilbara Minerals is even worse. The broker reckons that investors will have to wait until at least 2026 for another dividend. It is predicting the dividend rivers to remain dry over 2024 and 2025, despite the company's dividend policy of paying out 20-30% of its free cash flow.

This prediction is based upon Pilbara's ongoing and expensive capital expenditure plans, which Morgan Stanley believes Pilbara will prioritise over dividends amid falling lithium revenues.

As we touched on earlier, these are just predictions. No one knows what Pilbara Minerals' future income payments will look like. But this analysis will no doubt be tough to read for Pilbara Minerals investors who have just gotten used to receiving dividends from their shares.

Motley Fool contributor Sebastian Bowen has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool Australia's parent company Motley Fool Holdings Inc. has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool Australia has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. This article contains general investment advice only (under AFSL 400691). Authorised by Scott Phillips.

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