Are Dividend Investors Making A Mistake With Autoliv, Inc. (NYSE:ALV)?

Is Autoliv, Inc. (NYSE:ALV) a good dividend stock? How can we tell? Dividend paying companies with growing earnings can be highly rewarding in the long term. 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 2.9% yield is hard to get excited about, but the long payment history is respectable. At the right price, or with strong growth opportunities, Autoliv could have potential. There are a few simple ways to reduce the risks of buying Autoliv for its dividend, and we’ll go through these below.

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NYSE:ALV Historical Dividend Yield, January 3rd 2020
NYSE:ALV Historical Dividend Yield, January 3rd 2020

Payout ratios

Dividends are typically paid from company earnings. If a company pays more in dividends than it earned, then the dividend might become unsustainable – hardly an ideal situation. Comparing dividend payments to a company’s net profit after tax is a simple way of reality-checking whether a dividend is sustainable. In the last year, Autoliv paid out 102% of its profit as dividends. Unless there are extenuating circumstances, from the perspective of an investor who hopes to own the company for many years, a payout ratio of above 100% is definitely a concern.

Another important check we do is to see if the free cash flow generated is sufficient to pay the dividend. Autoliv paid out 176% of its free cash flow last year, suggesting the dividend is poorly covered by cash flow. Paying out such a high percentage of cash flow suggests that the dividend was funded from either cash at bank or by borrowing, neither of which is desirable over the long term. Cash is slightly more important than profit from a dividend perspective, but given Autoliv’s payments were not well covered by either earnings or cash flow, we are concerned about the sustainability of this dividend.

Is Autoliv’s Balance Sheet Risky?

As Autoliv’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). Autoliv has net debt of 1.66 times its EBITDA, which we think is not too troublesome.

Net interest cover can be calculated by dividing earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) by the company’s net interest expense. Autoliv has EBIT of 11.51 times its interest expense, which we think is adequate.

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

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. Autoliv 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 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 ten-year period, the first annual payment was US$1.20 in 2010, compared to US$2.48 last year. This works out to be a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of approximately 7.5% a year over that time.

Companies like this, growing their dividend at a decent rate, can be very valuable over the long term, if the rate of growth can be maintained.

Dividend Growth Potential

Dividend payments have been consistent over the past few years, but we should always check if earnings per share (EPS) are growing, as this will help maintain the purchasing power of the dividend. Autoliv’s earnings per share have shrunk at 14% a year over the past five years. With this kind of significant decline, we always wonder what has changed in the business. Dividends are about stability, and Autoliv’s earnings per share, which support the dividend, have been anything but stable.

Conclusion

To summarise, shareholders should always check that Autoliv’s dividends are affordable, that its dividend payments are relatively stable, and that it has decent prospects for growing its earnings and dividend. Autoliv paid out almost all of its cash flow and profit as dividends, leaving little to reinvest in the business. Moreover, earnings have been shrinking. While the dividends have been fairly steady, we’d wonder for how much longer this will be sustainable if earnings continue to decline. Using these criteria, Autoliv looks quite suboptimal from a dividend investment perspective.

Without at least some growth in earnings per share over time, the dividend will eventually come under pressure either from costs or inflation. Businesses can change though, and we think it would make sense to see what analysts are forecasting for the company.

If you are a dividend investor, you might also want to look at our curated list of dividend stocks yielding above 3%.

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.

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. Thank you for reading.