Dividend paying stocks like Australian Finance Group Limited (ASX:AFG) 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. 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.
With a goodly-sized dividend yield despite a relatively short payment history, investors might be wondering if Australian Finance Group is a new dividend aristocrat in the making. We'd agree the yield does look enticing. 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.
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. As a result, we should always investigate whether a company can afford its dividend, measured as a percentage of a company's net income after tax. Looking at the data, we can see that 69% of Australian Finance Group's profits were paid out as dividends in the last 12 months. 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.
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. Looking at the data, we can see that Australian Finance Group has been paying a dividend for the past four years. It has only been paying dividends for a few short years, and the dividend has already been cut at least once. This is one income stream we're not ready to live on. During the past four-year period, the first annual payment was AU$0.043 in 2016, compared to AU$0.11 last year. Dividends per share have grown at approximately 26% per year over this time. Australian Finance Group's dividend payments have fluctuated, so it hasn't grown 26% every year, but the CAGR is a useful rule of thumb for approximating the historical growth.
It's not great to see that the payment has been cut in the past. We're generally more wary of companies that have cut their dividend before, as they tend to perform worse in an economic downturn.
Dividend Growth Potential
With a relatively unstable dividend, it's even more important to evaluate if earnings per share (EPS) are growing - it's not worth taking the risk on a dividend getting cut, unless you might be rewarded with larger dividends in 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 Australian Finance Group has grown its earnings per share at 12% per annum over the past five years. Earnings per share have been growing rapidly, but given that it is paying out more than half of its earnings as dividends, we wonder how Australian Finance Group will keep funding its growth projects in the future.
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. First, we think Australian Finance Group has an acceptable payout ratio. We were also glad to see it growing earnings, but it was concerning to see the dividend has been cut at least once in the past. Australian Finance Group might not be a bad business, but it doesn't show all of the characteristics we look for in a dividend stock.
Earnings growth generally bodes well for the future value of company dividend payments. See if the 3 Australian Finance Group 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%.
If you spot an error that warrants correction, please contact the editor at email@example.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.
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