Know This Before Buying Inchcape plc (LON:INCH) For Its Dividend

Could Inchcape plc (LON:INCH) 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. Yet sometimes, investors buy a popular dividend stock because of its yield, and then lose money if the company’s dividend doesn’t live up to expectations.

In this case, Inchcape likely looks attractive to dividend investors, given its 4.6% dividend yield and eight-year payment history. We’d agree the yield does look enticing. The company also bought back stock during the year, equivalent to approximately 1.2% of the company’s market capitalisation at the time. Before you buy any stock for its dividend however, you should always remember Warren Buffett’s two rules: 1) Don’t lose money, and 2) Remember rule #1. We’ll run through some checks below to help with this.

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LSE:INCH Historical Dividend Yield, August 31st 2019
LSE:INCH Historical Dividend Yield, August 31st 2019

Payout ratios

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. As a result, we should always investigate whether a company can afford its dividend, measured as a percentage of a company’s net income after tax. In the last year, Inchcape paid out 207% of its profit as dividends. Unless there are extenuating circumstances, from the perspective of an investor who hopes to own the company for many years, a payout ratio of above 100% is definitely a concern.

Another important check we do is to see if the free cash flow generated is sufficient to pay the dividend. Inchcape paid out 52% of its free cash flow last year, which is acceptable, but is starting to limit the amount of earnings that can be reinvested into the business. It’s disappointing to see that the dividend was not covered by profits, but cash is more important from a dividend sustainability perspective, and Inchcape fortunately did generate enough cash to fund its dividend. If executives were to continue paying more in dividends than the company reported in profits, we’d view this as a warning sign. Very few companies are able to sustainably pay dividends larger than their reported earnings.

Is Inchcape’s Balance Sheet Risky?

As Inchcape’s dividend was not well covered by earnings, we need to check its balance sheet for signs of financial distress. A rough way to check this is with these two simple ratios: a) net debt divided by EBITDA (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation), and b) net interest cover. Net debt to EBITDA is a measure of a company’s total debt. Net interest cover measures the ability to meet interest payments. Essentially we check that a) the company does not have too much debt, and b) that it can afford to pay the interest. With net debt of 3.85 times its EBITDA, investors are starting to take on a meaningful amount of risk, should the business enter a downturn.

We calculated its interest cover by measuring its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT), and dividing this by the company’s net interest expense. Inchcape has interest cover of more than 12 times its interest expense, which we think is quite strong.

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. The first recorded dividend for Inchcape, in the last decade, was eight years ago. The company has been paying a stable dividend for a while now, which is great. However we’d prefer to see consistency for a few more years before giving it our full seal of approval. During the past eight-year period, the first annual payment was UK£0.066 in 2011, compared to UK£0.27 last year. Dividends per share have grown at approximately 19% per year over this time.

We’re not overly excited about the relatively short history of dividend payments, however the dividend is growing at a nice rate and we might take a closer look.

Dividend Growth Potential

Dividend payments have been consistent over the past few years, but we should always check if earnings per share (EPS) are growing, as this will help maintain the purchasing power of the dividend. Inchcape’s earnings per share have shrunk at 21% a year over the past five years. A sharp decline in earnings per share is not great from from a dividend perspective, as even conservative payout ratios can come under pressure if earnings fall far enough.

Conclusion

To summarise, shareholders should always check that Inchcape’s dividends are affordable, that its dividend payments are relatively stable, and that it has decent prospects for growing its earnings and dividend. We’re a bit uncomfortable with its high payout ratio, although at least the dividend was covered by free cash flow. Second, earnings per share have been in decline, and the dividend history is shorter than we’d like. In this analysis, Inchcape doesn’t shape up too well as a dividend stock. We’d find it hard to look past the flaws, and would not be inclined to think of it as a reliable dividend-payer.

Given that earnings are not growing, the dividend does not look nearly so attractive. Businesses can change though, and we think it would make sense to see what analysts are forecasting for the company.

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

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