Stock Analysis

Is Shenzhen Expressway Company Limited (HKG:548) A Smart Pick For Income Investors?

SEHK:548
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Is Shenzhen Expressway Company Limited (HKG:548) a good dividend stock? How can we tell? Dividend paying companies with growing earnings can be highly rewarding in the long term. 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.

With Shenzhen Expressway yielding 6.4% and having paid a dividend for over 10 years, many investors likely find the company quite interesting. We'd guess that plenty of investors have purchased it for the income. 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.

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historic-dividend
SEHK:548 Historic Dividend May 5th 2021

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. Shenzhen Expressway paid out 35% of its profit as dividends, over the trailing twelve month period. This is a medium payout level that leaves enough capital in the business to fund opportunities that might arise, while also rewarding shareholders. Plus, there is room to increase 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. Last year, Shenzhen Expressway paid a dividend while reporting negative free cash flow. While there may be an explanation, we think this behaviour is generally not sustainable.

We update our data on Shenzhen Expressway 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. Shenzhen Expressway has been paying dividends for a long time, but for the purpose of this analysis, we only examine the past 10 years of payments. This dividend has been unstable, which we define as having been cut one or more times over this time. During the past 10-year period, the first annual payment was CN¥0.2 in 2011, compared to CN¥0.4 last year. This works out to be a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of approximately 10% a year over that time. Shenzhen Expressway's dividend payments have fluctuated, so it hasn't grown 10% every year, but the CAGR is a useful rule of thumb for approximating the historical growth.

Shenzhen Expressway has grown distributions at a rapid rate despite cutting the dividend at least once in the past. Companies that cut once often cut again, but it might be worth considering if the business has turned a corner.

Dividend Growth Potential

With a relatively unstable dividend, it's even more important to evaluate if earnings per share (EPS) are growing - it's not worth taking the risk on a dividend getting cut, unless you might be rewarded with larger dividends in future. It's good to see Shenzhen Expressway has been growing its earnings per share at 11% a year over the past five years. A company paying out less than a quarter of its earnings as dividends, and growing earnings at more than 10% per annum, looks to be right in the cusp of its growth phase. At the right price, we might be interested.

We'd also point out that Shenzhen Expressway issued a meaningful number of new shares in the past year. Regularly issuing new shares can be detrimental - it's hard to grow dividends per share when new shares are regularly being created.

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. First, we like Shenzhen Expressway's low dividend payout ratio, although we're a bit concerned that it paid out a substantially higher percentage of its free cash flow. Next, earnings growth has been good, but unfortunately the dividend has been cut at least once in the past. In sum, we find it hard to get excited about Shenzhen Expressway from a dividend perspective. It's not that we think it's a bad business; just that there are other companies that perform better on these criteria.

Companies possessing a stable dividend policy will likely enjoy greater investor interest than those suffering from a more inconsistent approach. Still, investors need to consider a host of other factors, apart from dividend payments, when analysing a company. Case in point: We've spotted 2 warning signs for Shenzhen Expressway (of which 1 shouldn't be ignored!) you should know about.

If you are a dividend investor, you might also want to look at our curated list of dividend stocks yielding 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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