Could American Campus Communities, Inc. (NYSE:ACC) 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 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.
With American Campus Communities yielding 4.0% and having paid a dividend for over 10 years, many investors likely find the company quite interesting. We'd guess that plenty of investors have purchased it for the income. Some simple analysis can offer a lot of insights when buying a company for its dividend, and we'll go through this below.
Companies (usually) pay dividends out of their earnings. If a company is paying more than it earns, the dividend might have to be cut. So we need to form a view on if a company's dividend is sustainable, relative to its net profit after tax. In the last year, American Campus Communities paid out 69% of its profit as dividends. A payout ratio above 50% generally implies a business is reaching maturity, although it is still possible to reinvest in the business or increase the dividend over time.
Another important check we do is to see if the free cash flow generated is sufficient to pay the dividend. American Campus Communities paid out 67% of its cash flow as dividends last year, which is within a reasonable range for the average corporation. It's positive to see that American Campus Communities's dividend is covered by both profits and cash flow, since this is generally a sign that the dividend is sustainable, and a lower payout ratio usually suggests a greater margin of safety before the dividend gets cut.
It is worth considering that American Campus Communities is a Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT). REITs have different rules governing their payments, and are often required to pay out a high portion of their earnings to investors.
Is American Campus Communities's Balance Sheet Risky?
As American Campus Communities has a meaningful amount of debt, we need to check its balance sheet to see if the company might have debt risks. 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 measures total debt load relative to company earnings (lower = less debt), while net interest cover measures the ability to pay interest on the debt (higher = greater ability to pay interest costs). With net debt of 6.98 times its EBITDA, American Campus Communities 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 1.77 times its interest expense, American Campus Communities's interest cover is starting to look a bit thin. Low interest cover and high debt can create problems right when the investor least needs them, and we're reluctant to rely on the dividend of companies with these traits. That said, American Campus Communities is in the real estate business, which is typically able to sustain much higher levels of debt, relative to other industries.
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. American Campus Communities has been paying dividends for a long time, but for the purpose of this analysis, we only examine the past 10 years of payments. During this period the dividend has been stable, which could imply the business could have relatively consistent earnings power. During the past ten-year period, the first annual payment was US$1.35 in 2009, compared to US$1.88 last year. This works out to be a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of approximately 3.4% a year over that time.
Slow and steady dividend growth might not sound that exciting, but dividends have been stable for ten years, which we think is seriously impressive.
Dividend Growth Potential
Dividend payments have been consistent over the past few years, but we should always check if earnings per share (EPS) are growing, as this will help maintain the purchasing power of the dividend. It's good to see American Campus Communities has been growing its earnings per share at 13% a year over the past five years. American Campus Communities's earnings per share have grown rapidly in recent years, although more than half of its profits are being paid out as dividends, which makes us wonder if the company has a limited number of reinvestment opportunities in its business.
Dividend investors should always want to know if a) a company's dividends are affordable, b) if there is a track record of consistent payments, and c) if the dividend is capable of growing. American Campus Communities's is paying out more than half its income as dividends, but at least the dividend is covered by both reported earnings and cashflow. That said, we were glad to see it growing earnings and paying a fairly consistent dividend. Overall we think American Campus Communities is an interesting dividend stock, although it could be better.
Earnings growth generally bodes well for the future value of company dividend payments. See if the 6 American Campus Communities 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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