Are National Grid plc, Banco Santander SA And Pearson plc About To Slash Their Dividends?

With Santander’s (LSE: BNC) earnings forecasts having been downgraded in recent months, many investors may be concerned about its dividend prospects. After all, following its share price fall of 31% in the last year, it’s clear that the global banking giant is undergoing a challenging period.

A key reason for this is weakness in Santander’s key market of Brazil. The macroeconomic outlook for the emerging economy is highly uncertain and there can be no guarantee that there will be a sustained improvement ahead. Therefore, the market is anticipating a decline in Santander’s bottom line of 3% this year.

Despite this, Santander’s dividends are due to remain well-covered at 2.3 times and with the bank’s earnings due to return to growth via a double-digit rise next year, there’s scope for brisk increases in shareholder payouts in the coming years. As such, Santander appears to be a strong income play, with its yield of 4.6% being substantially higher than that of the wider index. And with Santander trading on a price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio of just 9.5, it offers excellent value for money, too.

Policy shift

Also enduring a tough period is education specialist Pearson (LSE: PSON). It has released multiple profit warnings in recent years and in its most recent one it stated that it would end the long-held policy of increasing dividends each year. Clearly, this is disappointing for the company’s investors, but with Pearson now adopting what appears to be a sound strategy, it could deliver a successful turnaround over the medium term.

With Pearson currently yielding 6.2%, it appears to be a superb income play at first glance. However, dividend coverage is very low, with Pearson currently paying out 96% of profit as a dividend. Although the company intends to maintain dividends at their current level, such a small amount of headroom when making shareholder payouts may be unsustainable.

Therefore, while Pearson has a high yield and a sound strategy, there’s a risk that dividends may disappoint somewhat in future. However, with a sound business model and trading on a P/E ratio of 15.6, Pearson appears to be worth buying right now.

Rock solid

Of course, when it comes to dividend stability, National Grid (LSE: NG) is hard to beat. That’s mostly because it has a very resilient and robust business model which is less positively correlated to the performance of the wider economy than is the case for many of its FTSE 100 peers. As such, National Grid’s dividends have tended to be consistent and ahead of inflation. Looking ahead, this trend looks set to continue.

With National Grid currently yielding 4.4%, its yield may be below those of Santander and Pearson. However, its dividends are likely to be far more certain than for its index peers and with National Grid having a beta of only 0.6, it should provide a less volatile shareholder experience as well as exceptional defensive qualities. As a result, it seems to be an excellent income play for the long term.

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Peter Stephens owns shares of National Grid. The Motley Fool UK has no position in any of the shares mentioned. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.