Dividend paying stocks like Enbridge Inc. (TSE:ENB) 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.
One way to look into the risks is to look at a snapshot of Enbridge's latest financial position, by checking our visualisation of its financial health.
With Enbridge yielding 6.3% 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. 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.
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 115% of Enbridge'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.
We also measure dividends paid against a company's levered free cash flow, to see if enough cash was generated to cover the dividend. Enbridge paid out 258% 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. As Enbridge's dividend was not well covered by either earnings or cash flow, we would be concerned that this dividend could be at risk over the long term.
Is Enbridge's Balance Sheet Risky?
As Enbridge's dividend was not well covered by earnings, we need to check its balance sheet for signs of financial distress. A quick check of its financial situation can be done with two ratios: net debt divided by EBITDA (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation), and 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). Enbridge has net debt of 5.61 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. Interest cover of 3.15 times its interest expense is starting to become a concern for Enbridge, and be aware that lenders may place additional restrictions on the company as well. High debt and weak interest cover are not a great combo, and we would be cautious of relying on this company's dividend while these metrics persist.
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. Enbridge 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 CA$0.66 in 2009, compared to CA$2.95 last year. Dividends per share have grown at approximately 16% per year over this time.
It's rare to find a company that has grown its dividends rapidly over ten years and not had any notable cuts, but Enbridge has done it, which we really like.
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 Enbridge has been growing its earnings per share at 35% 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. 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.
To summarise, shareholders should always check that Enbridge'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 Enbridge paying out a high percentage of both its cashflow and earnings. We like that it has been delivering solid improvement in its earnings per share, and relatively consistent dividend payments. Ultimately, Enbridge comes up short on our dividend analysis. It's not that we think it is a bad company - just that there are likely more appealing dividend prospects out there on this analysis.
Companies that are growing earnings tend to be the best dividend stocks over the long term. See what the 11 analysts we track are forecasting for Enbridge for free with public analyst estimates for the company.
If you are a dividend investor, you might also want to look at our curated list of dividend stocks yielding above 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 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.