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Is A2A S.p.A. (BIT:A2A) A Smart Choice For Dividend Investors?

Simply Wall St

Dividend paying stocks like A2A S.p.A. (BIT:A2A) tend to be popular with investors, and for good reason - some research suggests a significant amount of all stock market returns come from reinvested dividends. If you are hoping to live on your dividends, it's important to be more stringent with your investments than the average punter. Regular readers know we like to apply the same approach to each dividend stock, and we hope you'll find our analysis useful.

A high yield and a long history of paying dividends is an appealing combination for A2A. We'd guess that plenty of investors have purchased it for the income. Some simple analysis can reduce the risk of holding A2A for its dividend, and we'll focus on the most important aspects below.

Explore this interactive chart for our latest analysis on A2A!

BIT:A2A Historical Dividend Yield, November 12th 2019

Payout ratios

Dividends are usually paid out of company earnings. If a company is paying more than it earns, then the dividend might become unsustainable - hardly an ideal situation. Comparing dividend payments to a company's net profit after tax is a simple way of reality-checking whether a dividend is sustainable. In the last year, A2A paid out 96% of its profit as dividends. This is quite a high payout ratio that suggests the dividend is not well covered by earnings.

Another important check we do is to see if the free cash flow generated is sufficient to pay the dividend. The company paid out 54% of its free cash flow, which is not bad per se, but does start to limit the amount of cash A2A has available to meet other needs. It's good to see that while A2A's dividends were not well covered by profits, at least they are affordable from a free cash flow perspective. Even so, if the company were to continue paying out almost all of its profits, we'd be concerned about whether the dividend is sustainable in a downturn.

Is A2A's Balance Sheet Risky?

As A2A's dividend was not well covered by earnings, 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. A2A has net debt of 2.71 times its EBITDA. Using debt can accelerate business growth, but also increases the risks.

We calculated its interest cover by measuring its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT), and dividing this by the company's net interest expense. A2A has EBIT of 5.70 times its interest expense, which we think is adequate.

Consider getting our latest analysis on A2A's financial position 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. A2A has been paying dividends for a long time, but for the purpose of this analysis, we only examine the past 10 years of payments. Its dividend payments have fallen by 20% or more on at least one occasion over the past ten years. During the past ten-year period, the first annual payment was €0.097 in 2009, compared to €0.07 last year. The dividend has shrunk at around 3.2% a year during that period. A2A's dividend hasn't shrunk linearly at 3.2% per annum, but the CAGR is a useful estimate of the historical rate of change.

A shrinking dividend over a ten-year period is not ideal, and we'd be concerned about investing in a dividend stock that lacks a solid record of growing dividends per share.

Dividend Growth Potential

Given that the dividend has been cut in the past, we need to check if earnings are growing and if that might lead to stronger dividends in the future. Strong earnings per share (EPS) growth might encourage our interest in the company despite fluctuating dividends, which is why it's great to see A2A has grown its earnings per share at 29% per annum over the past five years. Earnings per share have been growing very rapidly, although the company is also paying out virtually all of its profit in dividends. While EPS could grow fast enough to make the dividend sustainable, in this type of situation, we'd want to pay extra attention to any fragilities in the company's balance sheet.

Conclusion

When we look at a dividend stock, we need to form a judgement on whether the dividend will grow, if the company is able to maintain it in a wide range of economic circumstances, and if the dividend payout is sustainable. We're not keen on the fact that A2A paid out such a high percentage of its income, although its cashflow is in better shape. Next, earnings growth has been good, but unfortunately the dividend has been cut at least once in the past. Ultimately, A2A comes up short on our dividend analysis. It's not that we think it is a bad company - just that there are likely more appealing dividend prospects out there on this analysis.

Companies that are growing earnings tend to be the best dividend stocks over the long term. See what the 4 analysts we track are forecasting for A2A for free with public 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.