We Wouldn't Be Too Quick To Buy BCE Inc. (TSE:BCE) Before It Goes Ex-Dividend

By
Simply Wall St
Published
December 08, 2020
TSX:BCE
Source: Shutterstock

Some investors rely on dividends for growing their wealth, and if you're one of those dividend sleuths, you might be intrigued to know that BCE Inc. (TSE:BCE) is about to go ex-dividend in just four days. If you purchase the stock on or after the 14th of December, you won't be eligible to receive this dividend, when it is paid on the 15th of January.

BCE's next dividend payment will be CA$0.83 per share. Last year, in total, the company distributed CA$3.33 to shareholders. Based on the last year's worth of payments, BCE stock has a trailing yield of around 5.8% on the current share price of CA$57.85. Dividends are an important source of income to many shareholders, but the health of the business is crucial to maintaining those dividends. So we need to investigate whether BCE can afford its dividend, and if the dividend could grow.

See our latest analysis for BCE

Dividends are usually paid out of company profits, so if a company pays out more than it earned then its dividend is usually at greater risk of being cut. BCE distributed an unsustainably high 130% of its profit as dividends to shareholders last year. Without more sustainable payment behaviour, the dividend looks precarious. A useful secondary check can be to evaluate whether BCE generated enough free cash flow to afford its dividend. Over the last year it paid out 72% of its free cash flow as dividends, within the usual range for most companies.

It's disappointing to see that the dividend was not covered by profits, but cash is more important from a dividend sustainability perspective, and BCE fortunately did generate enough cash to fund its dividend. If executives were to continue paying more in dividends than the company reported in profits, we'd view this as a warning sign. Very few companies are able to sustainably pay dividends larger than their reported earnings.

Click here to see the company's payout ratio, plus analyst estimates of its future dividends.

historic-dividend
TSX:BCE Historic Dividend December 9th 2020

Have Earnings And Dividends Been Growing?

Companies with falling earnings are riskier for dividend shareholders. If business enters a downturn and the dividend is cut, the company could see its value fall precipitously. That's why it's not ideal to see BCE's earnings per share have been shrinking at 3.2% a year over the previous five years.

Many investors will assess a company's dividend performance by evaluating how much the dividend payments have changed over time. BCE has delivered an average of 7.5% per year annual increase in its dividend, based on the past 10 years of dividend payments. The only way to pay higher dividends when earnings are shrinking is either to pay out a larger percentage of profits, spend cash from the balance sheet, or borrow the money. BCE is already paying out 130% of its profits, and with shrinking earnings we think it's unlikely that this dividend will grow quickly in the future.

Final Takeaway

From a dividend perspective, should investors buy or avoid BCE? It's never fun to see a company's earnings per share in retreat. Additionally, BCE is paying out quite a high percentage of its earnings, and more than half its cash flow, so it's hard to evaluate whether the company is reinvesting enough in its business to improve its situation. It's not the most attractive proposition from a dividend perspective, and we'd probably give this one a miss for now.

With that in mind though, if the poor dividend characteristics of BCE don't faze you, it's worth being mindful of the risks involved with this business. For instance, we've identified 3 warning signs for BCE (1 shouldn't be ignored) you should be aware of.

We wouldn't recommend just buying the first dividend stock you see, though. Here's a list of interesting dividend stocks with a greater than 2% yield and an upcoming dividend.

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