Stock Analysis

Is Ashtead Group plc (LON:AHT) A Smart Choice For Dividend Investors?

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LSE:AHT
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Dividend paying stocks like Ashtead Group plc (LON:AHT) 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. 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 slim 1.3% yield is hard to get excited about, but the long payment history is respectable. At the right price, or with strong growth opportunities, Ashtead Group could have potential. The company also bought back stock equivalent to around 2.4% of market capitalisation this year. 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.

Explore this interactive chart for our latest analysis on Ashtead Group!

historic-dividend
LSE:AHT Historic Dividend November 27th 2020

Payout ratios

Dividends are usually paid out of company earnings. If a company is paying more than it earns, then the dividend might become unsustainable - hardly an ideal situation. As a result, we should always investigate whether a company can afford its dividend, measured as a percentage of a company's net income after tax. In the last year, Ashtead Group paid out 28% of its profit as dividends. This is a middling range that strikes a nice balance between paying dividends to shareholders, and retaining enough earnings to invest in future growth. Besides, if reinvestment opportunities dry up, the company has room to increase the dividend.

We also measure dividends paid against a company's levered free cash flow, to see if enough cash was generated to cover the dividend. Ashtead Group's cash payout ratio last year was 18%, which is quite low and suggests that the dividend was thoroughly covered by cash flow. It's positive to see that Ashtead Group'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.

Remember, you can always get a snapshot of Ashtead Group's latest financial position, by checking our visualisation of its financial health.

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. For the purpose of this article, we only scrutinise the last decade of Ashtead Group's dividend 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 10-year period, the first annual payment was UK£0.03 in 2010, compared to UK£0.4 last year. Dividends per share have grown at approximately 30% per year over this time.

Dividends have been growing pretty quickly, and even more impressively, they haven't experienced any notable falls during this period.

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. Strong earnings per share (EPS) growth might encourage our interest in the company despite fluctuating dividends, which is why it's great to see Ashtead Group has grown its earnings per share at 19% per annum over the past five years. Earnings per share have been growing at a good rate, and the company is paying less than half its earnings as dividends. We generally think this is an attractive combination, as it permits further reinvestment in the business.

Conclusion

To summarise, shareholders should always check that Ashtead Group's dividends are affordable, that its dividend payments are relatively stable, and that it has decent prospects for growing its earnings and dividend. It's great to see that Ashtead Group is paying out a low percentage of its earnings and cash flow. That said, we were glad to see it growing earnings and paying a fairly consistent dividend. Ashtead Group has met all of our criteria, including having strong cash flow that covers the dividend. We definitely think it would be worthwhile looking closer.

Market movements attest to how highly valued a consistent dividend policy is compared to one which is more unpredictable. However, there are other things to consider for investors when analysing stock performance. For example, we've picked out 1 warning sign for Ashtead Group that investors should know about before committing capital to this stock.

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

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