Is Wharf Real Estate Investment Company Limited (HKG:1997) An Attractive Dividend Stock?

Dividend paying stocks like Wharf Real Estate Investment Company Limited (HKG:1997) 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. Yet sometimes, investors buy a popular dividend stock because of its yield, and then lose money if the company’s dividend doesn’t live up to expectations.

Wharf Real Estate Investment pays a 7.1% dividend yield, and has been paying dividends for the past two years. A high yield probably looks enticing, but investors are likely wondering about the short payment history. Some simple analysis can offer a lot of insights when buying a company for its dividend, and we’ll go through this below.

Explore this interactive chart for our latest analysis on Wharf Real Estate Investment!

SEHK:1997 Historical Dividend Yield May 23rd 2020
SEHK:1997 Historical Dividend Yield May 23rd 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. So we need to form a view on if a company’s dividend is sustainable, relative to its net profit after tax. In the last year, Wharf Real Estate Investment paid out 157% of its profit as dividends. A payout ratio above 100% is definitely an item of concern, unless there are some other circumstances that would justify it.

Another important check we do is to see if the free cash flow generated is sufficient to pay the dividend. Wharf Real Estate Investment paid out 54% of its free cash flow last year, which is acceptable, but is starting to limit the amount of earnings that can be reinvested into the business. It’s good to see that while Wharf Real Estate Investment’s dividends were not covered by profits, at least they are affordable from a cash perspective. 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.

Is Wharf Real Estate Investment’s Balance Sheet Risky?

As Wharf Real Estate Investment’s dividend was not well covered by earnings, we need to check its balance sheet for signs of financial distress. A rough way to check this is with these two simple ratios: a) net debt divided by EBITDA (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation), and b) net interest cover. Net debt to EBITDA measures total debt load relative to company earnings (lower = less debt), while net interest cover measures the ability to pay interest on the debt (higher = greater ability to pay interest costs). Wharf Real Estate Investment has net debt of 3.28 times 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.

Net interest cover can be calculated by dividing earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) by the company’s net interest expense. With EBIT of 13.57 times its interest expense, Wharf Real Estate Investment’s interest cover is quite strong – more than enough to cover the interest expense.

We update our data on Wharf Real Estate Investment 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. The company has been paying a stable dividend for a few years now, but we’d like to see more evidence of consistency over a longer period. During the past two-year period, the first annual payment was HK$0.95 in 2018, compared to HK$2.03 last year. Dividends per share have grown at approximately 46% per year over this time.

Wharf Real Estate Investment has been growing its dividend quite rapidly, which is exciting. However, the short payment history makes us question whether this performance will persist across a full market cycle.

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. Wharf Real Estate Investment’s earnings per share have shrunk at 27% a year over the past three years. With this kind of significant decline, we always wonder what has changed in the business. Dividends are about stability, and Wharf Real Estate Investment’s earnings per share, which support the dividend, have been anything but stable.

Conclusion

Dividend investors should always want to know if a) a company’s dividends are affordable, b) if there is a track record of consistent payments, and c) if the dividend is capable of growing. We’re not keen on the fact that Wharf Real Estate Investment paid out such a high percentage of its income, although its cashflow is in better shape. Second, earnings per share have been in decline, and the dividend history is shorter than we’d like. There are a few too many issues for us to get comfortable with Wharf Real Estate Investment 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. However, there are other things to consider for investors when analysing stock performance. For example, we’ve picked out 4 warning signs for Wharf Real Estate Investment 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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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. Thank you for reading.