Are dividend forecasts at HSBC Holdings plc, Centrica plc & Weir Group plc about to collapse?

Royston Wild explains why dividends at FTSE 100 giants HSBC Holdings plc (LON: HSBA), Centrica plc (LON: CNA) and Weir Group plc (LON: WEIR) could be on thin ice.

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Today I am considering the dividend prospects of three FTSE 100 (INDEXFTSE: UKX) giants.

Cooling down

With shrinkage across its customer base showing no signs of slowing, I believe Centrica (LSE: CNA) is a dicey pick for both growth and income seekers.

The power play has seen earnings slip during the past two years as mounting competition across its retail operations — not to mention impact of commodity price weakness for its Centrica Energy arm — has weighed. And the City does not expect these problems to cease any time soon, a 12% earnings slip chalked in for 2016.

Despite these pressures, however, Centrica is expected to raise the dividend from 12p per share in 2015 to 12.2p in the current period, yielding an attractive 6.1%.

Investors have had to swallow two consecutive payout cuts in recent years, and despite current forecasts, I believe a third could be heading down the line.

Indeed, this year’s projected dividend is covered just 1.2 times by forward earnings, well below the safety benchmark of 2 times. And with Centrica wrestling with £4.4bn net debt pile, I reckon income investors should expect the worst.

Commodities clanger

The poor state of commodities markets also makes pumpbuilder Weir Group (LSE: WEIR) a perilous pick for dividend chasers, in my opinion.

Sure, Brent oil prices may remain solid around the $50-per-barrel marker, even in spite of OPEC’s ongoing reluctance to reduce output levels.

But make no mistake: the fossil fuel industry remains braced for a fresh oil-price shock, as proven by more capex budget cuts and job reductions from the likes of BP and Shell alone in recent weeks. And similar measures from mining giants such as BHP Billiton indicate that metals prices could be poised for further weakness, too.

Given this backdrop, City brokers expect Weir to cut the dividend from 48.08p per share in 2015 to 40.9p per share, yielding a handy-if-unspectacular 3.5%.

However, with this figure covered just 1.5 times by predicted earnings, and orders sinking across the group, I reckon Weir could end up cutting the dividend even further.

Battered bank

Unlike Centrica and Weir, I believe that HSBC Holdings (LSE: HSBA) is a great pick for those seeking resplendent long-term returns. But that does not mean dividends could find themselves in peril in the meantime.

Like the rest of the banking sector, the Asia-focussed bank is being whacked by a steady rise in PPI-related bills, HSBC having stashed away an extra $549m in 2015 to cover the fallout of the mis-selling scandal. But a 2018 deadline leaves plenty of scope for these penalties to keep spiralling higher.

On top of this, HSBC is also facing a backcloth of falling revenues as volatility across financial markets bites and economic cooling across emerging markets intensifies.

A dividend yield of 7.7% may prove irresistible for many stock choosers, created by a predicted 52-US-cents-per-share reward. But with the firm’s CET1 rating stagnating at 11.9% as of the first quarter, I reckon HSBC could be forced to bin its progressive dividend policy to build the balance sheet and ride out current market difficulties.

Should you invest, the value of your investment may rise or fall and your capital is at risk. Before investing, your individual circumstances should be considered so you should consider taking independent financial advice.

Royston Wild has no position in any shares mentioned. The Motley Fool UK has recommended BP, Centrica, HSBC Holdings, Royal Dutch Shell B, and Weir. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.

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