Dividend paying stocks like BAIC Motor Corporation Limited (HKG:1958) 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. On the other hand, investors have been known to buy a stock because of its yield, and then lose money if the company's dividend doesn't live up to expectations.
In this case, BAIC Motor likely looks attractive to dividend investors, given its 4.9% dividend yield and five-year payment history. It sure looks interesting on these metrics - but there's always more to the story . Some simple analysis can reduce the risk of holding BAIC Motor for its dividend, and we'll focus on the most important aspects below.
Dividends are typically paid from company earnings. If a company pays more in dividends than it earned, 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. BAIC Motor paid out 43% of its profit as dividends, over the trailing twelve month period. This is a medium payout level that leaves enough capital in the business to fund opportunities that might arise, while also rewarding shareholders. Plus, there is room to increase the payout ratio over time.
We also measure dividends paid against a company's levered free cash flow, to see if enough cash was generated to cover the dividend. BAIC Motor paid out 7.0% of its free cash flow as dividends last year, which is conservative and suggests the dividend is sustainable. It's encouraging to see that the dividend is covered by both profit and cash flow. This generally suggests the dividend is sustainable, as long as earnings don't drop precipitously.
While the above analysis focuses on dividends relative to a company's earnings, we do note BAIC Motor's strong net cash position, which will let it pay larger dividends for a time, should it choose.
Remember, you can always get a snapshot of BAIC Motor's latest financial position, by checking our visualisation of its financial health.
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 BAIC Motor has been paying a dividend for the past five years. During the past five-year period, the first annual payment was CN¥0.30 in 2015, compared to CN¥0.19 last year. This works out to be a decline of approximately 8.7% per year over that time. BAIC Motor's dividend has been cut sharply at least once, so it hasn't fallen by 8.7% every year, but this is a decent approximation of the long term change.
When a company's per-share dividend falls we question if this reflects poorly on either external business conditions, or the company's capital allocation decisions. Either way, we find it hard to get excited about a company with a declining dividend.
Dividend Growth Potential
With a relatively unstable dividend, and a poor history of shrinking dividends, it's even more important to see if EPS are growing. BAIC Motor's EPS are effectively flat over the past five years. Flat earnings per share are acceptable for a time, but over the long term, the purchasing power of the company's dividends could be eroded by inflation.
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. It's great to see that BAIC Motor is paying out a low percentage of its earnings and cash flow. Earnings per share have been falling, and the company has cut its dividend at least once in the past. From a dividend perspective, this is a cause for concern. In sum, we find it hard to get excited about BAIC Motor from a dividend perspective. It's not that we think it's a bad business; just that there are other companies that perform better on these criteria.
Without at least some growth in earnings per share over time, the dividend will eventually come under pressure either from costs or inflation. Very few businesses see earnings consistently shrink year after year in perpetuity though, and so it might be worth seeing what the 17 analysts we track are forecasting for the future.
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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