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Regular readers will know that we love our dividends at Simply Wall St, which is why it's exciting to see The Hackett Group, Inc. (NASDAQ:HCKT) is about to trade ex-dividend in the next four days. The ex-dividend date is usually set to be one business day before the record date which is the cut-off date on which you must be present on the company's books as a shareholder in order to receive the dividend. The ex-dividend date is important as the process of settlement involves two full business days. So if you miss that date, you would not show up on the company's books on the record date. In other words, investors can purchase Hackett Group's shares before the 24th of June in order to be eligible for the dividend, which will be paid on the 9th of July.
The company's upcoming dividend is US$0.10 a share, following on from the last 12 months, when the company distributed a total of US$0.40 per share to shareholders. Based on the last year's worth of payments, Hackett Group has a trailing yield of 2.3% on the current stock price of $17.17. Dividends are an important source of income to many shareholders, but the health of the business is crucial to maintaining those dividends. That's why we should always check whether the dividend payments appear sustainable, and if the company is growing.
Dividends are typically paid from company earnings. If a company pays more in dividends than it earned in profit, then the dividend could be unsustainable. Hackett Group distributed an unsustainably high 179% of its profit as dividends to shareholders last year. Without more sustainable payment behaviour, the dividend looks precarious. Yet cash flow is typically more important than profit for assessing dividend sustainability, so we should always check if the company generated enough cash to afford its dividend. What's good is that dividends were well covered by free cash flow, with the company paying out 22% of its cash flow last year.
It's good to see that while Hackett Group's dividends were not covered by profits, at least they are affordable from a cash perspective. Still, if the company repeatedly paid a dividend greater than its profits, we'd be concerned. Very few companies are able to sustainably pay dividends larger than their reported earnings.
Have Earnings And Dividends Been Growing?
When earnings decline, dividend companies become much harder to analyse and own safely. Investors love dividends, so if earnings fall and the dividend is reduced, expect a stock to be sold off heavily at the same time. Hackett Group's earnings per share have fallen at approximately 14% a year over the previous five years. Ultimately, when earnings per share decline, the size of the pie from which dividends can be paid, shrinks.
The main way most investors will assess a company's dividend prospects is by checking the historical rate of dividend growth. In the past nine years, Hackett Group has increased its dividend at approximately 17% a year on average. The only way to pay higher dividends when earnings are shrinking is either to pay out a larger percentage of profits, spend cash from the balance sheet, or borrow the money. Hackett Group is already paying out a high percentage of its income, so without earnings growth, we're doubtful of whether this dividend will grow much in the future.
The Bottom Line
From a dividend perspective, should investors buy or avoid Hackett Group? It's never great to see earnings per share declining, especially when a company is paying out 179% of its profit as dividends, which we feel is uncomfortably high. However, the cash payout ratio was much lower - good news from a dividend perspective - which makes us wonder why there is such a mis-match between income and cashflow. With the way things are shaping up from a dividend perspective, we'd be inclined to steer clear of Hackett Group.
With that being said, if you're still considering Hackett Group as an investment, you'll find it beneficial to know what risks this stock is facing. For example, we've found 3 warning signs for Hackett Group that we recommend you consider before investing in the business.
A common investment mistake is buying the first interesting stock you see. Here you can find a list of promising dividend stocks with a greater than 2% yield and an upcoming dividend.
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. We aim to bring you long-term focused analysis driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis may not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements or qualitative material. Simply Wall St has no position in any stocks mentioned.
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