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Could Whitestone REIT (NYSE:WSR) be an attractive dividend share to own for the long haul? Investors are often drawn to strong companies with the idea of reinvesting the 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.
With a goodly-sized dividend yield despite a relatively short payment history, investors might be wondering if Whitestone REIT is a new dividend aristocrat in the making. It sure looks interesting on these metrics – but there’s always more to the story . There are a few simple ways to reduce the risks of buying Whitestone REIT for its dividend, and we’ll go through these below.
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. Looking at the data, we can see that 115% of Whitestone REIT’s profits were paid out as dividends in the last 12 months. A payout ratio above 100% is definitely an item of concern, unless there are some other circumstances that would justify it.
In addition to comparing dividends against profits, we should inspect whether the company generated enough cash to pay its dividend. Whitestone REIT paid out 111% of its free cash flow last year, which we think is concerning if cash flows do not improve. Cash is slightly more important than profit from a dividend perspective, but given Whitestone REIT’s payments were not well covered by either earnings or cash flow, we are concerned about the sustainability of this dividend.
Is Whitestone REIT’s Balance Sheet Risky?
As Whitestone REIT’s dividend was not well covered by earnings, we need to check its balance sheet for signs of financial distress. 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 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, Whitestone 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 1.45 times its interest expense, Whitestone REIT’s interest cover is starting to look a bit thin. 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.
Remember, you can always get a snapshot of Whitestone REIT’s latest financial position, by checking our visualisation of its financial health.
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. The first recorded dividend for Whitestone REIT, in the last decade, was nine years ago. The company has been paying a stable dividend for a while now, which is great. However we’d prefer to see consistency for a few more years before giving it our full seal of approval. Its most recent annual dividend was US$1.14 per share, effectively flat on its first payment nine years ago.
We like that the dividend hasn’t been shrinking. However we’re conscious that the company hasn’t got an overly long track record of dividend payments yet, which makes us wary of relying on its dividend income.
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. It’s good to see Whitestone REIT has been growing its earnings per share at 22% a year over the past 5 years. The company has been growing its EPS at a very rapid rate, while paying out virtually all of its income as dividends. Generally, a company that is growing rapidly while paying out a majority of its earnings, is seeing its debt burden increase. We’d be conscious of any extra risk added by this practice.
To summarise, shareholders should always check that Whitestone REIT’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 a concern to see that the company paid out such a high percentage of its earnings and cashflow as dividends. We were also glad to see it growing earnings, although its dividend history is not as long as we’d like. In summary, Whitestone REIT has a number of shortcomings that we’d find it hard to get past. Things could change, but we think there are a number of better ideas out there.
Earnings growth generally bodes well for the future value of company dividend payments. See if the 5 Whitestone REIT analysts we track are forecasting continued growth with our free report on analyst estimates for the company.
If you are a dividend investor, you might also want to look at our curated list of dividend stocks yielding above 3%.
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If you spot an error that warrants correction, please contact the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.