Tread With Caution Around Star Bulk Carriers Corp.'s (NASDAQ:SBLK) 3.6% Dividend Yield

By
Simply Wall St
Published
April 09, 2020

Today we'll take a closer look at Star Bulk Carriers Corp. (NASDAQ:SBLK) from a dividend investor's perspective. Owning a strong business and reinvesting the dividends is widely seen as an attractive way of growing your wealth. 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.

The company also bought back stock equivalent to around 3.9% of market capitalisation this year. Remember though, given the recent drop in its share price, Star Bulk Carriers's yield will look higher, even though the market may now be expecting a decline in its long-term prospects. Before you buy any stock for its dividend however, you should always remember Warren Buffett's two rules: 1) Don't lose money, and 2) Remember rule #1. We'll run through some checks below to help with this.

Explore this interactive chart for our latest analysis on Star Bulk Carriers!

NasdaqGS:SBLK Historical Dividend Yield April 9th 2020

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 form a view on if a company's dividend is sustainable, relative to its net profit after tax. Although Star Bulk Carriers pays a dividend, it was loss-making during the past year. When a company recently reported a loss, we should investigate if its cash flows covered the dividend.

Last year, Star Bulk Carriers paid a dividend while reporting negative free cash flow. While there may be an explanation, we think this behaviour is generally not sustainable.

Is Star Bulk Carriers's Balance Sheet Risky?

Given Star Bulk Carriers is paying a dividend but reported a loss over the past year, we need to check its balance sheet for signs of financial distress. 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 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 5.26 times its EBITDA, Star Bulk Carriers 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.

Net interest cover can be calculated by dividing earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) by the company's net interest expense. Star Bulk Carriers has interest cover of less than 1 - which suggests its earnings are not high enough to cover even the interest payments on its debt. This is potentially quite serious, and we would likely avoid the stock if it were not resolved quickly. 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 Star Bulk Carriers every 24 hours, so you can always get our latest analysis of its financial health, 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. This company has been paying a dividend for less than 2 years, which we think is too soon to consider it a reliable dividend stock. Its most recent annual dividend was US$0.20 per share.

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

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. Strong earnings per share (EPS) growth might encourage our interest in the company despite fluctuating dividends, which is why it's great to see Star Bulk Carriers has grown its earnings per share at 50% per annum over the past five years.

Conclusion

To summarise, shareholders should always check that Star Bulk Carriers's dividends are affordable, that its dividend payments are relatively stable, and that it has decent prospects for growing its earnings and dividend. We're a bit uncomfortable with Star Bulk Carriers paying a dividend while loss-making, especially since the dividend was also not well covered by free cash flow. Next, earnings growth has been good, but unfortunately the company has not been paying dividends as long as we'd like. In summary, Star Bulk Carriers has a number of shortcomings that we'd find it hard to get past. Things could change, but we think there are likely more attractive alternatives out there.

Companies possessing a stable dividend policy will likely enjoy greater investor interest than those suffering from a more inconsistent approach. However, there are other things to consider for investors when analysing stock performance. For example, we've picked out 3 warning signs for Star Bulk Carriers that investors should know about before committing capital to this stock.

If you are a dividend investor, you might also want to look at our curated list of dividend stocks yielding above 3%.

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.

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. Thank you for reading.

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