Today we'll take a closer look at Hebei Construction Group Corporation Limited (HKG:1727) from a dividend investor's perspective. Owning a strong business and reinvesting the dividends is widely seen as an attractive way of growing your wealth. Yet sometimes, investors buy a stock for its dividend and lose money because the share price falls by more than they earned in dividend payments.
Some readers mightn't know much about Hebei Construction Group's 1.9% dividend, as it has only been paying distributions for the last two years. A low dividend might not be a bad thing, if the company is reinvesting heavily and growing its sales and profits. Remember that the recent share price drop will make Hebei Construction Group's yield look higher, even though recent events might have impacted the company's prospects. Some simple analysis can offer a lot of insights when buying a company for its dividend, and we'll go through this below.
Companies (usually) pay dividends out of their earnings. If a company is paying more than it earns, the dividend might have to be cut. So we need to form a view on if a company's dividend is sustainable, relative to its net profit after tax. Hebei Construction Group paid out 58% of its profit as dividends, over the trailing twelve month period. This is a healthy payout ratio, and while it does limit the amount of earnings that can be reinvested in the business, there is also some room to lift the payout ratio over time.
In addition to comparing dividends against profits, we should inspect whether the company generated enough cash to pay its dividend. Hebei Construction Group paid out 252% of its free cash last year. Cash flows can be lumpy, but this dividend was not well 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. Hebei Construction Group paid out less in dividends than it reported in profits, but unfortunately it didn't generate enough free cash flow to cover the dividend. Were it to repeatedly pay dividends that were not well covered by cash flow, this could be a risk to Hebei Construction Group's ability to maintain its dividend.
With a strong net cash balance, Hebei Construction Group investors may not have much to worry about in the near term from a dividend perspective.
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. This company's dividend has been unstable, and with a relatively short history, we think it's a little soon to draw strong conclusions about its long term dividend potential. During the past two-year period, the first annual payment was CN¥0.3 in 2018, compared to CN¥0.1 last year. This works out to a decline of approximately 53% over that time.
A shrinking dividend over a two-year period is not ideal, and we'd be concerned about investing in a dividend stock that lacks a solid record of growing dividends per share.
Dividend Growth Potential
Given that dividend payments have been shrinking like a glacier in a warming world, we need to check if there are some bright spots on the horizon. Hebei Construction Group's EPS have fallen by approximately 12% per year during the past five years. With this kind of significant decline, we always wonder what has changed in the business. Dividends are about stability, and Hebei Construction Group's earnings per share, which support the dividend, have been anything but stable.
To summarise, shareholders should always check that Hebei Construction Group's dividends are affordable, that its dividend payments are relatively stable, and that it has decent prospects for growing its earnings and dividend. First, the company has a payout ratio that was within an average range for most dividend stocks, but it paid out virtually all of its generated cash flow. Earnings per share are down, and Hebei Construction Group's dividend has been cut at least once in the past, which is disappointing. There are a few too many issues for us to get comfortable with Hebei Construction Group from a dividend perspective. Businesses can change, but we would struggle to identify why an investor should rely on this stock for their income.
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. To that end, Hebei Construction Group has 4 warning signs (and 2 which are potentially serious) we think you should know about.
Looking for more high-yielding dividend ideas? Try our curated list of dividend stocks with a yield above 3%.
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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. We aim to bring you long-term focused analysis driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis may not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements or qualitative material. Simply Wall St has no position in any stocks mentioned.
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