It looks like Spok Holdings, Inc. (NASDAQ:SPOK) is about to go ex-dividend in the next 4 days. Ex-dividend means that investors that purchase the stock on or after the 14th of November will not receive this dividend, which will be paid on the 10th of December.
Spok Holdings's upcoming dividend is US$0.1 a share, following on from the last 12 months, when the company distributed a total of US$0.5 per share to shareholders. Calculating the last year's worth of payments shows that Spok Holdings has a trailing yield of 4.2% on the current share price of $11.87. We love seeing companies pay a dividend, but it's also important to be sure that laying the golden eggs isn't going to kill our golden goose! As a result, readers should always check whether Spok Holdings has been able to grow its dividends, or if the dividend might be cut.
If a company pays out more in dividends than it earned, then the dividend might become unsustainable - hardly an ideal situation. Spok Holdings reported a loss after tax last year, which means it's paying a dividend despite being unprofitable. While this might be a one-off event, this is unlikely to be sustainable in the long term. With the recent loss, it's important to check if the business generated enough cash to pay its dividend. If cash earnings don't cover the dividend, the company would have to pay dividends out of cash in the bank, or by borrowing money, neither of which is long-term sustainable. Over the last year, it paid out dividends equivalent to 234% of what it generated in free cash flow, a disturbingly high percentage. It's pretty hard to pay out more than you earn, so we wonder how Spok Holdings intends to continue funding this dividend, or if it could be forced to the payment.
Spok Holdings does have a large net cash position on the balance sheet, which could fund large dividends for a time, if the company so chose. Still, smart investors know that it is better to assess dividends relative to the cash and profit generated by the business. Paying dividends out of cash on the balance sheet is not long-term sustainable.
Have Earnings And Dividends Been Growing?
Companies with falling earnings are riskier for dividend shareholders. Investors love dividends, so if earnings fall and the dividend is reduced, expect a stock to be sold off heavily at the same time. Spok Holdings was unprofitable last year and, unfortunately, the general trend suggests its earnings have been in decline over the last five years, making us wonder if the dividend is sustainable at all.
The main way most investors will assess a company's dividend prospects is by checking the historical rate of dividend growth. Spok Holdings's dividend payments per share have declined at 6.7% per year on average over the past ten years, which is uninspiring. It's never nice to see earnings and dividends falling, but at least management has cut the dividend rather than potentially risk the company's health in an attempt to maintain it.
The Bottom Line
Should investors buy Spok Holdings for the upcoming dividend? We're a bit uncomfortable with it paying a dividend while being loss-making, especially given that the dividend was not well covered by free cash flow. With the way things are shaping up from a dividend perspective, we'd be inclined to steer clear of Spok Holdings.
Want to learn more about Spok Holdings? Here's a visualisation of its historical rate of revenue and earnings growth.
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.
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