Is Healthcare Services Group, Inc. (NASDAQ:HCSG) The Right Choice For A Smart Dividend Investor?

Is Healthcare Services Group, Inc. (NASDAQ:HCSG) a good dividend stock? How can we tell? Dividend paying companies with growing earnings can be highly rewarding in the long term. Unfortunately, it’s common for investors to be enticed in by the seemingly attractive yield, and lose money when the company has to cut its dividend payments.

While Healthcare Services Group’s 2.9% dividend yield is not the highest, we think its lengthy payment history is quite interesting. There are a few simple ways to reduce the risks of buying Healthcare Services Group for its dividend, and we’ll go through these below.

Explore this interactive chart for our latest analysis on Healthcare Services Group!

NasdaqGS:HCSG Historical Dividend Yield, March 5th 2020
NasdaqGS:HCSG Historical Dividend Yield, March 5th 2020

Payout ratios

Companies (usually) pay dividends out of their earnings. If a company is paying more than it earns, the dividend might have to be cut. 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 92% of Healthcare Services Group’s profits were paid out as dividends in the last 12 months. With a payout ratio this high, we’d say its dividend is not well covered by earnings. This may be fine if earnings are growing, but it might not take much of a downturn for the dividend to come under pressure.

We also measure dividends paid against a company’s levered free cash flow, to see if enough cash was generated to cover the dividend. Healthcare Services Group paid out 66% of its cash flow as dividends last year, which is within a reasonable range for the average corporation. While the dividend was not well covered by profits, at least they were covered by free cash flow. Still, if the company continues paying out such a high percentage of its profits, the dividend could be at risk if business turns sour.

With a strong net cash balance, Healthcare Services Group investors may not have much to worry about in the near term from a dividend perspective.

Consider getting our latest analysis on Healthcare Services Group’s financial position here.

Dividend Volatility

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. Healthcare Services Group has been paying dividends for a long time, but for the purpose of this analysis, we only examine the past 10 years of payments. The dividend has been stable over the past 10 years, which is great. We think this could suggest some resilience to the business and its dividends. During the past ten-year period, the first annual payment was US$0.48 in 2010, compared to US$0.81 last year. Dividends per share have grown at approximately 5.3% per year over this time.

Businesses that can grow their dividends at a decent rate and maintain a stable payout can generate substantial wealth for shareholders over the long term.

Dividend Growth Potential

While dividend payments have been relatively reliable, it would also be nice if earnings per share (EPS) were growing, as this is essential to maintaining the dividend’s purchasing power over the long term. It’s good to see Healthcare Services Group has been growing its earnings per share at 23% a year over the past five years. The company has been growing its EPS at a very rapid rate, while paying out virtually all of its income as dividends. Generally, a company that is growing rapidly while paying out a majority of its earnings, is seeing its debt burden increase. We’d be conscious of any extra risk added by this practice.

Conclusion

When we look at a dividend stock, we need to form a judgement on whether the dividend will grow, if the company is able to maintain it in a wide range of economic circumstances, and if the dividend payout is sustainable. We’re not keen on the fact that Healthcare Services Group paid out such a high percentage of its income, although its cashflow is in better shape. We like that it has been delivering solid improvement in its earnings per share, and relatively consistent dividend payments. While we’re not hugely bearish on it, overall we think there are potentially better dividend stocks than Healthcare Services Group out there.

Earnings growth generally bodes well for the future value of company dividend payments. See if the 10 Healthcare Services Group analysts we track are forecasting continued growth with our free report on analyst estimates for the company.

We have also put together a list of global stocks with a market capitalisation above $1bn and yielding more 3%.

If you spot an error that warrants correction, please contact the editor at editorial-team@simplywallst.com. This article by Simply Wall St is general in nature. It does not constitute a recommendation to buy or sell any stock, and does not take account of your objectives, or your financial situation. Simply Wall St has no position in the stocks mentioned.

We aim to bring you long-term focused research analysis driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis may not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements or qualitative material. Thank you for reading.