Are Dividend Investors Making A Mistake With Lippo Limited (HKG:226)?

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Dividend paying stocks like Lippo Limited (HKG:226) 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.

While Lippo’s 2.5% dividend yield is not the highest, we think its lengthy payment history is quite interesting. There are a few simple ways to reduce the risks of buying Lippo for its dividend, and we’ll go through these below.

Explore this interactive chart for our latest analysis on Lippo!

SEHK:226 Historical Dividend Yield, June 18th 2019
SEHK:226 Historical Dividend Yield, June 18th 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. 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. Although it reported a loss over the past 12 months, Lippo currently pays a dividend. When a company recently reported a loss, we should investigate if its cash flows covered the dividend.

Last year, Lippo paid a dividend while reporting negative free cash flow. While there may be an explanation, we think this behaviour is generally not sustainable.

Is Lippo’s Balance Sheet Risky?

Given Lippo 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 way to check a company’s financial situation uses these two ratios: net debt divided by EBITDA (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation), and net interest cover. Net debt to EBITDA is a measure of a company’s total debt. Net interest cover measures the ability to meet interest payments on debt. Essentially we check that a) a company does not have too much debt, and b) that it can afford to pay the interest. Lippo has net debt of more than 3x 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 less than 1 times its interest expense, Lippo’s financial situation is potentially quite concerning. Readers should investigate whether it might be at risk of breaching the minimum requirements on its loans.

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

Dividend Volatility

Before buying a stock for its income, we want to see if the dividends have been stable in the past, and if the company has a track record of maintaining its dividend. Lippo has been paying dividends for a long time, but for the purpose of this analysis, we only examine the past 10 years of payments. The dividend has been cut by more than 20% on at least one occasion historically. During the past ten-year period, the first annual payment was HK$0.04 in 2009, compared to HK$0.08 last year. This works out to be a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of approximately 7.2% a year over that time. The dividends haven’t grown at precisely 7.2% every year, but this is a useful way to average out the historical rate of growth.

Dividends have grown at a reasonable rate, but with at least one substantial cut in the payments, we’re not certain this dividend stock would be ideal for someone intending to live on the income.

Dividend Growth Potential

Given that the dividend has been cut in the past, we need to check if earnings are growing and if that might lead to stronger dividends in the future. Over the past five years, it looks as though Lippo’s EPS have declined at around 27% a year. 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

To summarise, shareholders should always check that Lippo’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 a concern to see that the company paid a dividend despite reporting a loss, and the dividend was also not well covered by free cash flow. Second, earnings per share have been in decline, and its dividend has been cut at least once in the past. Using these criteria, Lippo looks quite suboptimal from a dividend investment perspective.

See if management have their own wealth at stake, by checking insider shareholdings in Lippo stock.

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