Is Safehold Inc. (NYSE:SAFE) A Great Dividend Stock?

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Dividend paying stocks like Safehold Inc. (NYSE:SAFE) tend to be popular with investors, and for good reason – some research shows that a significant amount of all stock market returns come from reinvested dividends. Yet sometimes, investors buy a stock for its dividend and lose money because the share price falls by more than they earned in dividend payments.

Some readers mightn’t know much about Safehold’s 2.3% dividend, as it has only been paying distributions for the last two years. While it may not look like much, if earnings are growing it could become quite interesting. Given the recent spike in its share price, Safehold’s yield will look lower, even though the market may now be factoring in an improvement in its long-term prospects. Some simple analysis can offer a lot of insights when buying a company for its dividend, and we’ll go through this below.

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NYSE:SAFE Historical Dividend Yield, May 1st 2019
NYSE:SAFE Historical Dividend Yield, May 1st 2019

Payout ratios

Companies (usually) pay dividends out of their earnings. If a company is paying more than it earns, the dividend might have to be cut. 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. In the last year, Safehold paid out 52% of its profit as dividends. A payout ratio above 50% generally implies a business is reaching maturity, although it is still possible to reinvest in the business or increase the dividend over time.

In addition to comparing dividends against profits, we should inspect whether the company generated enough cash to pay its dividend. Safehold paid out 206% of its free cash flow last year, which we think is a risk if cash flows do not improve. Paying out more than 100% of your free cash flow in dividends is generally not a long-term, sustainable state of affairs, so we think shareholders should watch this metric closely.

It is worth considering that Safehold 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 Safehold’s Balance Sheet Risky?

As Safehold 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). Safehold has net debt of 9.13 times its earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) which implies meaningful risk if interest rates rise of earnings decline.

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 Safehold, and be aware that lenders may place additional restrictions on the company as well. 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.

We update our data on Safehold every 24 hours, so you can always get our latest analysis of its financial health, here.

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. The company has been paying a stable dividend for a few years now, but we’d like to see more evidence of consistency over a longer period. Its most recent annual dividend was US$0.60 per share, effectively flat on its first payment two years ago.

Modest dividend growth is good to see, especially with the payments being relatively stable. However, the payment history is relatively short and we wouldn’t want to rely on this dividend too much.

Dividend Growth Potential

Examining whether the dividend is affordable and stable is important. However, it’s also important to assess if earnings per share (EPS) are growing. Growing EPS can help maintain or increase the purchasing power of the dividend over the long run. Safehold has grown its EPS 420% over the past 12 months. It’s good to see earnings per share rising, but one year is too short a period to get excited about. Were this trend to continue, we’d be interested. With recent, rapid earnings per share growth and a payout ratio of 52%, this business could be an interesting prospect if growth can be maintained. Any one year of performance can be misleading for a variety of reasons, so we wouldn’t like to form any strong conclusions based on these numbers alone.

Conclusion

Dividend investors should always want to know if a) a company’s dividends are affordable, b) if there is a track record of consistent payments, and c) if the dividend is capable of growing. Safehold gets a pass on its dividend payout ratio, but it paid out virtually all of its cash flow as dividends. This may just be a one-off, but we’d keep an eye on this. We were also glad to see it growing earnings, although its dividend history is not as long as we’d like. In sum, we find it hard to get excited about Safehold 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.

Earnings growth generally bodes well for the future value of company dividend payments. See if the 3 Safehold 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%.

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.