Could Medical Properties Trust, Inc. (NYSE:MPW) Have The Makings Of Another Dividend Aristocrat?

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Dividend paying stocks like Medical Properties Trust, Inc. (NYSE:MPW) 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. 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 high yield and a long history of paying dividends is an appealing combination for Medical Properties Trust. We’d guess that plenty of investors have purchased it for the income. Some simple analysis can offer a lot of insights when buying a company for its dividend, and we’ll go through this below.

Explore this interactive chart for our latest analysis on Medical Properties Trust!
NYSE:MPW Historical Dividend Yield, May 14th 2019
NYSE:MPW Historical Dividend Yield, May 14th 2019

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. So we need to be form a view on if a company’s dividend is sustainable, relative to its net profit after tax. Medical Properties Trust paid out 78% of its profit as dividends, over the trailing twelve month period. It’s paying out most of its earnings, which limits the amount that can be reinvested in the business. This may indicate limited need for further capital within the business, or highlight a commitment to paying a dividend.

Another important check we do is to see if the free cash flow generated is sufficient to pay the dividend. The company paid out 82% of its free cash flow as dividends last year, which is adequate, but reduces the wriggle room in the event of a downturn.

It is worth considering that Medical Properties Trust is a Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT). REITs have different rules governing their payments, and are often required to pay out a high portion of their earnings to investors.

Is Medical Properties Trust’s Balance Sheet Risky?

As Medical Properties Trust has a meaningful amount of debt, we need to check its balance sheet to see if the company might have debt risks. A quick way to check a company’s financial situation uses these 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 on debt. Essentially we check that a) a company does not have too much debt, and b) that it can afford to pay the interest. Medical Properties Trust has net debt of more than 3x its EBITDA, which is getting towards the limit of most investors’ comfort zones. Judicious use of debt can enhance shareholder returns, but also adds to the risk if something goes awry.

Net interest cover can be calculated by dividing earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) by the company’s net interest expense. Interest cover of less than 5x its interest expense is starting to become a concern for Medical Properties Trust, and be aware that lenders may place additional restrictions on the company as well.

Consider getting our latest analysis on Medical Properties Trust’s financial position 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. Medical Properties Trust 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$0.80 in 2009, compared to US$1.00 last year. Dividends per share have grown at approximately 2.3% per year over this time.

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. Strong earnings per share (EPS) growth might encourage our interest in the company despite fluctuating dividends, which is why it’s great to see Medical Properties Trust has grown its earnings per share at 36% per annum over the past five years. Medical Properties Trust earnings have been growing very quickly recently, but given that it is paying out more than half of its earnings, we wonder if it will have enough capital to fund further growth in the future.

We’d also point out that Medical Properties Trust 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. Medical Properties Trust’s is paying out more than half its income as dividends, but at least the dividend is covered both by reported earnings and cashflow. That said, we were glad to see it growing earnings and paying a fairly consistent dividend. Overall we think Medical Properties Trust is an interesting dividend stock, although it could be better.

Companies that are growing earnings tend to be the best dividend stocks over the long term. See what the 7 analysts we track are forecasting for Medical Properties Trust 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.