Know This Before Buying Stockland (ASX:SGP) For Its Dividend

Is Stockland (ASX:SGP) a good dividend stock? How can we tell? Dividend paying companies with growing earnings can be highly rewarding in the long term. Yet sometimes, investors buy a stock for its dividend and lose money because the share price falls by more than they earned in dividend payments.

With Stockland yielding 6.0% and having paid a dividend for over 10 years, many investors likely find the company quite interesting. It would not be a surprise to discover that many investors buy it for the dividends. The company also bought back stock during the year, equivalent to approximately 1.2% of the company’s market capitalisation at the time. There are a few simple ways to reduce the risks of buying Stockland for its dividend, and we’ll go through these below.

Explore this interactive chart for our latest analysis on Stockland!

ASX:SGP Historical Dividend Yield, August 5th 2019
ASX:SGP Historical Dividend Yield, August 5th 2019

Payout ratios

Dividends are typically paid from company earnings. If a company pays more in dividends than it earned, 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, Stockland paid out 156% 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.

In addition to comparing dividends against profits, we should inspect whether the company generated enough cash to pay its dividend. Stockland paid out 179% of its free cash flow last year, suggesting the dividend is poorly covered by cash flow. Paying out more than 100% of your free cash flow in dividends is generally not a long-term, sustainable state of affairs, so we think shareholders should watch this metric closely. Cash is slightly more important than profit from a dividend perspective, but given Stockland’s payments were not well covered by either earnings or cash flow, we are concerned about the sustainability of this dividend.

Stockland is a REIT, which is an investment structure that often has different payout rules compared to other companies. It is not uncommon for REITs to pay out 100% of their earnings each year.

Is Stockland’s Balance Sheet Risky?

As Stockland’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 measures total debt load relative to company earnings (lower = less debt), while net interest cover measures the ability to pay interest on the debt (higher = greater ability to pay interest costs). Stockland has net debt of 5.41 times its EBITDA, which implies meaningful risk if interest rates rise of earnings decline.

We calculated its interest cover by measuring its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT), and dividing this by the company’s net interest expense. Net interest cover of 11.05 times its interest expense appears reasonable for Stockland, although we’re conscious that even high interest cover doesn’t make a company bulletproof. Despite a decent level of interest cover, shareholders should remain cautious about the high level of net debt. Rising rates or tighter debt markets have a nasty habit of making fools of highly-indebted dividend stocks.

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. Stockland 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 cut by more than 20% on at least one occasion historically. During the past ten-year period, the first annual payment was AU$0.41 in 2009, compared to AU$0.28 last year. This works out to be a decline of approximately 3.6% per year over that time. Stockland’s dividend hasn’t shrunk linearly at 3.6% per annum, but the CAGR is a useful estimate of the historical rate of change.

A shrinking dividend over a ten-year period is not ideal, and we’d be concerned about investing in a dividend stock that lacks a solid record of growing dividends per share.

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. It’s good to see Stockland has been growing its earnings per share at 41% a year over the past 5 years. Earnings per share have been growing very rapidly, although the company is also paying out virtually all of its profit in dividends. While EPS could grow fast enough to make the dividend sustainable, in this type of situation, we’d want to pay extra attention to any fragilities in the company’s balance sheet.

Conclusion

To summarise, shareholders should always check that Stockland’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 Stockland 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. With this information in mind, we think Stockland may not be an ideal dividend stock.

Earnings growth generally bodes well for the future value of company dividend payments. See if the 5 Stockland 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%.

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.

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. Thank you for reading.