Could easyJet plc (LON:EZJ) be an attractive dividend share to own for the long haul? Investors are often drawn to strong companies with the idea of reinvesting the dividends. On the other hand, investors have been known to buy a stock because of its yield, and then lose money if the company’s dividend doesn’t live up to expectations.
With a eight-year payment history and a 6.1% yield, many investors probably find easyJet intriguing. We’d agree the yield does look enticing. There are a few simple ways to reduce the risks of buying easyJet for its dividend, and we’ll go through these below.
Dividends are usually paid out of company earnings. If a company is paying more than it earns, then the dividend might become unsustainable – hardly an ideal situation. Comparing dividend payments to a company’s net profit after tax is a simple way of reality-checking whether a dividend is sustainable. Looking at the data, we can see that 119% of easyJet’s profits were paid out as dividends in the last 12 months. A payout ratio above 100% is definitely an item of concern, unless there are some other circumstances that would justify it.
Another important check we do is to see if the free cash flow generated is sufficient to pay the dividend. Last year, easyJet paid a dividend while reporting negative free cash flow. While there may be an explanation, we think this behaviour is generally not sustainable.
Before buying a stock for its income, we want to see if the dividends have been stable in the past, and if the company has a track record of maintaining its dividend. The first recorded dividend for easyJet, in the last decade, was eight years ago. It’s good to see that easyJet has been paying a dividend for a number of years. However, the dividend has been cut at least once in the past, and we’re concerned that what has been cut once, could be cut again. During the past eight-year period, the first annual payment was UK£0.11 in 2011, compared to UK£0.59 last year. Dividends per share have grown at approximately 23% per year over this time. The dividends haven’t grown at precisely 23% every year, but this is a useful way to average out the historical rate of growth.
It’s not great to see that the payment has been cut in the past. We’re generally more wary of companies that have cut their dividend before, as they tend to perform worse in an economic downturn.
Dividend Growth Potential
With a relatively unstable dividend, it’s even more important to evaluate if earnings per share (EPS) are growing – it’s not worth taking the risk on a dividend getting cut, unless you might be rewarded with larger dividends in future. Over the past five years, it looks as though easyJet’s EPS have declined at around 13% a year. With this kind of significant decline, we always wonder what has changed in the business. Dividends are about stability, and easyJet’s earnings per share, which support the dividend, have been anything but stable.
Dividend investors should always want to know if a) a company’s dividends are affordable, b) if there is a track record of consistent payments, and c) if the dividend is capable of growing. We’re a bit uncomfortable with easyJet paying out a high percentage of both its cashflow and earnings. Unfortunately, the company has not been able to generate earnings per share growth, and cut its dividend at least once in the past. Using these criteria, easyJet looks quite suboptimal from a dividend investment perspective.
Without at least some growth in earnings per share over time, the dividend will eventually come under pressure either from costs or inflation. See if the 23 analysts are forecasting a turnaround in our free collection of analyst estimates here.
If you are a dividend investor, you might also want to look at our curated list of dividend stocks yielding above 3%.
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