Does Cott Corporation (TSE:BCB) Have A Place In Your Dividend Stock Portfolio?

Could Cott Corporation (TSE:BCB) 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. If you are hoping to live on your dividends, it’s important to be more stringent with your investments than the average punter. Regular readers know we like to apply the same approach to each dividend stock, and we hope you’ll find our analysis useful.

One way to look into the risks is to look at a snapshot of Cott’s latest financial position, by checking our visualisation of its financial health.

Investors might not know much about Cott’s dividend prospects, even though it has been paying dividends for the last seven years and offers a 1.9% yield. While the yield may not look too great, the relatively long payment history is interesting. The company also bought back stock during the year, equivalent to approximately 4.8% of the company’s market capitalisation at the time. There are a few simple ways to reduce the risks of buying Cott for its dividend, and we’ll go through these below.

Click the interactive chart for our full dividend analysis

TSX:BCB Historical Dividend Yield, November 8th 2019
TSX:BCB Historical Dividend Yield, November 8th 2019

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. Although it reported a loss over the past 12 months, Cott currently pays a dividend. When a company is loss-making, we next need to check to see if its cash flows can support the dividend.

Cott paid out 53% of its cash flow as dividends last year, which is within a reasonable range for the average corporation.

Is Cott’s Balance Sheet Risky?

Given Cott is paying a dividend but reported a loss over the past year, 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). Cott has net debt of 4.42 times its EBITDA, which is getting towards the limit of most investors’ comfort zones. Judicious use of debt can enhance shareholder returns, but also adds to the risk if something goes awry.

We calculated its interest cover by measuring its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT), and dividing this by the company’s net interest expense. With EBIT of 1.11 times its interest expense, Cott’s interest cover is starting to look a bit thin.

Dividend Volatility

From the perspective of an income investor who wants to earn dividends for many years, there is not much point buying a stock if its dividend is regularly cut or is not reliable. Looking at the data, we can see that Cott has been paying a dividend for the past seven years. Although it has been paying a dividend for several years now, the dividend has been cut at least once by more than 20%, and we’re cautious about the consistency of its dividend across a full economic cycle. During the past seven-year period, the first annual payment was US$0.24 in 2012, compared to US$0.24 last year. Dividend payments have grown at less than 1% a year over this period.

We’re glad to see the dividend has risen, but with a limited rate of growth and fluctuations in the payments, we don’t think this is an attractive combination.

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. Earnings have grown at around 4.6% a year for the past five years, which is better than seeing them shrink! A payout ratio below 50% leaves ample room to reinvest in the business, and provides finanical flexibility. However, earnings per share are unfortunately not growing much. Might this suggest that the company should pay a higher dividend instead?

Conclusion

Dividend investors should always want to know if a) a company’s dividends are affordable, b) if there is a track record of consistent payments, and c) if the dividend is capable of growing. We’re a bit uncomfortable with the company paying a dividend while being loss-making, although at least the dividend was covered by free cash flow. Second, earnings growth has been ordinary, and its history of dividend payments is chequered – having cut its dividend at least once in the past. In summary, Cott has a number of shortcomings that we’d find it hard to get past. Things could change, but we think there are a number of better ideas out there.

Earnings growth generally bodes well for the future value of company dividend payments. See if the 8 Cott analysts we track are forecasting continued growth with our free report on 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 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.