Is Empire State Realty Trust, Inc. (NYSE:ESRT) A Great Dividend Stock?

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Is Empire State Realty Trust, Inc. (NYSE:ESRT) a good dividend stock? How would you know? 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.

Investors might not know much about Empire State Realty Trust’s dividend prospects, even though it has been paying dividends for the last six years and offers a 2.7% yield. While the yield may not look too great, the relatively long payment history is interesting. There are a few simple ways to reduce the risks of buying Empire State Realty Trust for its dividend, and we’ll go through these below.

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NYSE:ESRT Historical Dividend Yield, June 5th 2019
NYSE:ESRT Historical Dividend Yield, June 5th 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. Looking at the data, we can see that 26% of Empire State Realty Trust’s profits were paid out as dividends in the last 12 months. A medium payout ratio strikes a good balance between paying dividends, and keeping enough back to invest in the business. 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. Empire State Realty Trust’s cash payout ratio last year was 25%. Cash flows are typically lumpy, but this looks like an appropriately conservative payout. It’s positive to see that Empire State Realty Trust’s dividend is covered by both profits and cash flow, since this is generally a sign that the dividend is sustainable, and a lower payout ratio usually suggests a greater margin of safety before the dividend gets cut.

Is Empire State Realty Trust’s Balance Sheet Risky?

As Empire State Realty Trust 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 measures a company’s total debt load relative to its earnings (lower = less debt), while net interest cover measures the company’s ability to pay the interest on its debt (higher = greater ability to pay interest costs). With net debt of more than 5x EBITDA, Empire State Realty Trust 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 2.66 times its interest expense, Empire State Realty Trust’s interest cover is starting to look a bit thin. Low interest cover and high debt can create problems right when the investor least needs them. We’re generally reluctant to rely on the dividend of companies with these traits.

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

Dividend Volatility

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. Empire State Realty Trust has been paying a dividend for the past six years. The dividend has been quite stable over the past six years, which is great to see – although we usually like to see the dividend maintained for a decade before giving it full marks, though. During the past six-year period, the first annual payment was US$0.34 in 2013, compared to US$0.42 last year. Dividends per share have grown at approximately 3.6% per year over this time.

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. Growing EPS can help maintain or increase the purchasing power of the dividend over the long run. In the last five years, Empire State Realty Trust’s earnings per share have shrunk at approximately 14% per annum. Declining earnings per share over a number of years is not a great sign for the dividend investor. Without some improvement, this does not bode well for the long term value of a company’s dividend.

Conclusion

To summarise, shareholders should always check that Empire State Realty Trust’s dividends are affordable, that its dividend payments are relatively stable, and that it has decent prospects for growing its earnings and dividend. It’s great to see that Empire State Realty Trust is paying out a low percentage of its earnings and cash flow. Earnings per share have been falling, and the company has a relatively short dividend history – shorter than we like, anyway. In sum, we find it hard to get excited about Empire State Realty Trust 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.

Without at least some growth in earnings per share over time, the dividend will eventually come under pressure either from costs or inflation. See if the 4 analysts are forecasting a turnaround in our free collection of analyst estimates here.

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.