Today we’ll take a closer look at Choice Hotels International, Inc. (NYSE:CHH) 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. Unfortunately, it’s common for investors to be enticed in by the seemingly attractive yield, and lose money when the company has to cut its dividend payments.
A 1.0% yield is nothing to get excited about, but investors probably think the long payment history suggests Choice Hotels International has some staying power. The company also bought back stock during the year, equivalent to approximately 2.0% of the company’s market capitalisation at the time. When buying stocks for their dividends, you should always run through the checks below, to see if the dividend looks sustainable.
Companies (usually) pay dividends out of their earnings. If a company is paying more than it earns, the dividend might have to be cut. 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, Choice Hotels International paid out 22% of its profit as dividends. With a low payout ratio, it looks like the dividend is comprehensively covered by earnings.
In addition to comparing dividends against profits, we should inspect whether the company generated enough cash to pay its dividend. Choice Hotels International’s cash payout ratio last year was 23%, which is quite low and suggests that the dividend was thoroughly covered by cash flow. It’s encouraging to see that the dividend is covered by both profit and cash flow. This generally suggests the dividend is sustainable, as long as earnings don’t drop precipitously.
Is Choice Hotels International’s Balance Sheet Risky?
As Choice Hotels International has a meaningful amount of debt, we need to check its balance sheet to see if the company might have debt risks. 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 is a measure of a company’s total debt. Net interest cover measures the ability to meet interest payments. Essentially we check that a) the company does not have too much debt, and b) that it can afford to pay the interest. Choice Hotels International has net debt of 2.08 times its EBITDA. Using debt can accelerate business growth, but also increases the risks.
We calculated its interest cover by measuring its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT), and dividing this by the company’s net interest expense. Net interest cover of 9.54 times its interest expense appears reasonable for Choice Hotels International, although we’re conscious that even high interest cover doesn’t make a company bulletproof.
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. For the purpose of this article, we only scrutinise the last decade of Choice Hotels International’s dividend payments. During this period the dividend has been stable, which could imply the business could have relatively consistent earnings power. During the past ten-year period, the first annual payment was US$0.74 in 2009, compared to US$0.86 last year. Dividends per share have grown at approximately 1.5% per year over this time.
Slow and steady dividend growth might not sound that exciting, but dividends have been stable for ten years, which we think is seriously impressive.
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. Strong earnings per share (EPS) growth might encourage our interest in the company despite fluctuating dividends, which is why it’s great to see Choice Hotels International has grown its earnings per share at 15% per annum over the past five years. Earnings per share are growing at a solid clip, and the payout ratio is low. We think this is an ideal combination in a dividend stock.
When we look at a dividend stock, we need to form a judgement on whether the dividend will grow, if the company is able to maintain it in a wide range of economic circumstances, and if the dividend payout is sustainable. Firstly, we like that Choice Hotels International has low and conservative payout ratios. It hasn’t demonstrated a strong ability to grow earnings per share, but we like that the dividend payments have been fairly consistent. All these things considered, we think this organisation has a lot going for it from a dividend perspective.
Earnings growth generally bodes well for the future value of company dividend payments. See if the 10 Choice Hotels International analysts we track are forecasting continued growth with our free report on analyst estimates for the company.
Looking for more high-yielding dividend ideas? Try our curated list of dividend stocks with a yield above 3%.
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If you spot an error that warrants correction, please contact the editor at email@example.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.