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Is Bluerock Residential Growth REIT, Inc. (NYSEMKT:BRG) A Risky Dividend Stock?

Simply Wall St

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Is Bluerock Residential Growth REIT, Inc. (NYSEMKT:BRG) a good dividend stock? How can we tell? Dividend paying companies with growing earnings can be highly rewarding in the long term. Unfortunately, it's common for investors to be enticed in by the seemingly attractive yield, and lose money when the company has to cut its dividend payments.

With a goodly-sized dividend yield despite a relatively short payment history, investors might be wondering if Bluerock Residential Growth REIT is a new dividend aristocrat in the making. It sure looks interesting on these metrics - but there's always more to the story . The company also bought back stock during the year, equivalent to approximately 2.8% of the company's market capitalisation at the time. 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.

Click the interactive chart for our full dividend analysis

AMEX:BRG Historical Dividend Yield, July 12th 2019

Payout ratios

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. Although it reported a loss over the past 12 months, Bluerock Residential Growth REIT currently pays a dividend. A payout ratio above 100% is definitely an item of concern, unless there are some other circumstances that would justify it.

Bluerock Residential Growth REIT paid out 114% of its free cash flow last year, which we think is concerning if cash flows do not improve.

REITs like Bluerock Residential Growth REIT often have different rules governing their distributions, so a higher payout ratio on its own is not unusual.

Is Bluerock Residential Growth REIT's Balance Sheet Risky?

As Bluerock Residential Growth REIT'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. Bluerock Residential Growth REIT has net debt of 11.14 times its EBITDA, which we think carries substantial risk if earnings aren't sustainable.

Net interest cover can be calculated by dividing earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) by the company's net interest expense. Bluerock Residential Growth REIT has interest cover of less than 1 - which suggests its earnings are not high enough to cover even the interest payments on its debt. This is potentially quite serious, and we would likely avoid the stock if it were not resolved quickly. 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.

Remember, you can always get a snapshot of Bluerock Residential Growth REIT's latest financial position, by checking our visualisation of its financial health.

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. Bluerock Residential Growth REIT has been paying a dividend for the past five years. During the past five-year period, the first annual payment was US$1.16 in 2014, compared to US$0.65 last year. The dividend has fallen 44% over that period.

When a company's per-share dividend falls we question if this reflects poorly on either the business or management. Either way, we find it hard to get excited about a company with a declining dividend.

Dividend Growth Potential

Given that dividend payments have been shrinking like a glacier in a warming world, we need to check if there are some bright spots on the horizon. In the last five years, Bluerock Residential Growth REIT's earnings per share have shrunk at approximately 12% per annum. If earnings continue to decline, the dividend may come under pressure. Every investor should make an assessment of whether the company is taking steps to stabilise the situation.

Conclusion

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. Bluerock Residential Growth REIT's dividend is not well covered by free cash flow, plus it paid a dividend while being unprofitable. Earnings per share are down, and Bluerock Residential Growth REIT's dividend has been cut at least once in the past, which is disappointing. Using these criteria, Bluerock Residential Growth REIT looks quite suboptimal from a dividend investment perspective.

Given that earnings are not growing, the dividend does not look nearly so attractive. Very few businesses see earnings consistently shrink year after year in perpetuity though, and so it might be worth seeing what the 4 analysts we track are forecasting for the future.

We have also put together a list of global stocks with a market capitalisation above $1bn and yielding more 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.