Stock Analysis

Should You Buy High Liner Foods Incorporated (TSE:HLF) For Its Dividend?

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TSX:HLF
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Is High Liner Foods Incorporated (TSE:HLF) a good dividend stock? How can we tell? Dividend paying companies with growing earnings can be highly rewarding in the long term. If you are hoping to live on the income from dividends, it's important to be a lot more stringent with your investments than the average punter.

A 1.7% yield is nothing to get excited about, but investors probably think the long payment history suggests High Liner Foods has some staying power. That said, the recent jump in the share price will make High Liner Foods's dividend yield look smaller, even though the company prospects could be improving. Some simple research can reduce the risk of buying High Liner Foods for its dividend - read on to learn more.

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historic-dividend
TSX:HLF Historic Dividend December 28th 2020

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. In the last year, High Liner Foods paid out 28% of its profit as dividends. A medium payout ratio strikes a good balance between paying dividends, and keeping enough back to invest in the business. One of the risks is that management reinvests the retained capital poorly instead of paying a higher dividend.

Another important check we do is to see if the free cash flow generated is sufficient to pay the dividend. High Liner Foods paid out 10% of its free cash flow as dividends last year, which is conservative and suggests the dividend is sustainable. It's positive to see that High Liner Foods' 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.

We update our data on High Liner Foods every 24 hours, so you can always get our latest analysis of its financial health, here.

Dividend Volatility

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. High Liner Foods has been paying dividends for a long time, but for the purpose of this analysis, we only examine the past 10 years of payments. Its dividend payments have declined on at least one occasion over the past 10 years. During the past 10-year period, the first annual payment was US$0.1 in 2010, compared to US$0.1 last year. Dividend payments have grown at less than 1% a year over this period.

Modest growth in the dividend is good to see, but we think this is offset by historical cuts to the payments. It is hard to live on a dividend income if the company's earnings are not consistent.

Dividend Growth Potential

With a relatively unstable dividend, it's even more important to see if earnings per share (EPS) are growing. Why take the risk of a dividend getting cut, unless there's a good chance of bigger dividends in future? It's not great to see that High Liner Foods' have fallen at approximately 9.9% over the past five years. If earnings continue to decline, the dividend may come under pressure. Every investor should make an assessment of whether the company is taking steps to stabilise the situation.

Conclusion

When we look at a dividend stock, we need to form a judgement on whether the dividend will grow, if the company is able to maintain it in a wide range of economic circumstances, and if the dividend payout is sustainable. First, we like that the company's dividend payments appear well covered, although the retained capital also needs to be effectively reinvested. Second, earnings per share have been in decline, and its dividend has been cut at least once in the past. While we're not hugely bearish on it, overall we think there are potentially better dividend stocks than High Liner Foods out there.

Market movements attest to how highly valued a consistent dividend policy is compared to one which is more unpredictable. At the same time, there are other factors our readers should be conscious of before pouring capital into a stock. Just as an example, we've come accross 3 warning signs for High Liner Foods you should be aware of, and 1 of them is a bit unpleasant.

Looking for more high-yielding dividend ideas? Try our curated list of dividend stocks with a yield above 3%.

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