Here’s How We Evaluate City Office REIT, Inc.’s (NYSE:CIO) Dividend

Want to participate in a short research study? Help shape the future of investing tools and you could win a $250 gift card!

Dividend paying stocks like City Office REIT, Inc. (NYSE:CIO) 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. 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.

With a five-year payment history and a 7.6% yield, many investors probably find City Office REIT intriguing. It sure looks interesting on these metrics – but there’s always more to the story . Some simple research can reduce the risk of buying City Office REIT for its dividend – read on to learn more.

Click the interactive chart for our full dividend analysis

NYSE:CIO Historical Dividend Yield, July 4th 2019
NYSE:CIO Historical Dividend Yield, July 4th 2019

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. 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, City Office REIT currently pays a dividend. Paying out a majority of its earnings limits the amount that can be reinvested in the business. This may indicate a commitment to paying a dividend, or a dearth of investment opportunities.

The company paid out 99% of its free cash flow as dividends last year, which is adequate, but reduces the wriggle room in the event of a downturn.

Is City Office REIT’s Balance Sheet Risky?

As City Office REIT has a meaningful amount of debt, we need to check its balance sheet to see if the company might have debt risks. A quick check of its financial situation can be done with 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. Essentially we check that a) the company does not have too much debt, and b) that it can afford to pay the interest. With net debt of 9.12 times its EBITDA, City Office REIT could be described as a highly leveraged company. While some companies can handle this level of leverage, we’d be concerned about the dividend sustainability if there was any risk of an earnings downturn.

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, City Office REIT’s financial situation is potentially quite concerning. Readers should investigate whether it might be at risk of breaching the minimum requirements on its loans. High debt and weak interest cover are not a great combo, and we would be cautious of relying on this company’s dividend while these metrics persist.

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. City Office REIT has been paying a dividend for the past five years. Its most recent annual dividend was US$0.94 per share, effectively flat on its first payment five years ago.

It’s good to see at least some dividend growth. Yet with a relatively short dividend paying history, we wouldn’t want to depend on this dividend too heavily.

Dividend Growth Potential

The other half of the dividend investing equation is evaluating whether earnings per share (EPS) are growing. Over the long term, dividends need to grow at or above the rate of inflation, in order to maintain the recipient’s purchasing power. Strong earnings per share (EPS) growth might encourage our interest in the company despite fluctuating dividends, which is why it’s great to see City Office REIT has grown its earnings per share at 60% per annum over the past five years. A majority of profits are being paid out as dividends, which raises the question of what happens to the current dividend if earnings decline. However, the rapid growth in earnings may indicate that is less of a risk.

We’d also point out that City Office REIT issued a meaningful number of new shares in the past year. Trying to grow the dividend when issuing new shares reminds us of the ancient Greek tale of Sisyphus – perpetually pushing a boulder uphill. Companies that consistently issue new shares are often suboptimal from a dividend perspective.

Conclusion

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. City Office REIT’s is paying out more than half its income as dividends, but at least the dividend is covered by both reported earnings and cashflow. Next, earnings growth has been good, but unfortunately the company has not been paying dividends as long as we’d like. Ultimately, City Office REIT comes up short on our dividend analysis. It’s not that we think it is a bad company – just that there are likely more appealing dividend prospects out there on this analysis.

Companies that are growing earnings tend to be the best dividend stocks over the long term. See what the 3 analysts we track are forecasting for City Office REIT for free with public analyst estimates for the company.

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.