Dividend paying stocks like Austal Limited (ASX:ASB) tend to be popular with investors, and for good reason – some research suggests a significant amount of all stock market returns come from reinvested 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.
While Austal’s 1.5% dividend yield is not the highest, we think its lengthy payment history is quite interesting. Remember though, due to the recent spike in its share price, Austal’s yield will look lower, even though the market may now be factoring in an improvement in its long-term prospects. Some simple analysis can reduce the risk of holding Austal for its dividend, and we’ll focus on the most important aspects below.
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 53% of Austal’s profits were paid out as dividends in the last 12 months. This is a fairly normal payout ratio among most businesses. It allows a higher dividend to be paid to shareholders, but does limit the capital retained in the business – which could be good or bad.
We also measure dividends paid against a company’s levered free cash flow, to see if enough cash was generated to cover the dividend. Austal’s cash payout ratio last year was 11%. Cash flows are typically lumpy, but this looks like an appropriately conservative payout. It’s positive to see that Austal’s dividend is covered by both profits and cash flow, since this is generally a sign that the dividend is sustainable, and a lower payout ratio usually suggests a greater margin of safety before the dividend gets cut.
One of the major risks of relying on dividend income, is the potential for a company to struggle financially and cut its dividend. Not only is your income cut, but the value of your investment declines as well – nasty. For the purpose of this article, we only scrutinise the last decade of Austal’s dividend 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$0.13 in 2009, compared to AU$0.06 last year. This works out to be a decline of approximately 7.4% per year over that time. Austal’s dividend hasn’t shrunk linearly at 7.4% per annum, but the CAGR is a useful estimate of the historical rate of change.
We struggle to make a case for buying Austal for its dividend, given that payments have shrunk over the past ten years.
Dividend Growth Potential
With a relatively unstable dividend, and a poor history of shrinking dividends, it’s even more important to see if EPS are growing. While there may be fluctuations in the past , Austal’s earnings per share have basically not grown from where they were five years ago. Over the long term, steady earnings per share is a risk as the value of the dividends can be reduced by inflation.
To summarise, shareholders should always check that Austal’s dividends are affordable, that its dividend payments are relatively stable, and that it has decent prospects for growing its earnings and dividend. First, we think Austal has an acceptable payout ratio and its dividend is well covered by cashflow. Unfortunately, the company has not been able to generate earnings per share growth, and cut its dividend at least once in the past. While we’re not hugely bearish on it, overall we think there are potentially better dividend stocks than Austal out there.
Given that earnings are not growing, the dividend does not look nearly so attractive. Very few businesses see earnings consistently shrink year after year in perpetuity though, and so it might be worth seeing what the 3 analysts we track are forecasting for the future.
Looking for more high-yielding dividend ideas? Try our curated list of dividend stocks with a yield above 3%.
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If you spot an error that warrants correction, please contact the editor at email@example.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.