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Should You Buy Armada Hoffler Properties, Inc. (NYSE:AHH) For Its 5.0% Dividend?

Simply Wall St

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Today we'll take a closer look at Armada Hoffler Properties, Inc. (NYSE:AHH) from a dividend investor's perspective. Owning a strong business and reinvesting the dividends is widely seen as an attractive way of growing your wealth. 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 six-year payment history and a 5.0% yield, many investors probably find Armada Hoffler Properties intriguing. We'd agree the yield does look enticing. Some simple research can reduce the risk of buying Armada Hoffler Properties for its dividend - read on to learn more.

Explore this interactive chart for our latest analysis on Armada Hoffler Properties!

NYSE:AHH Historical Dividend Yield, July 17th 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. So we need to form a view on if a company's dividend is sustainable, relative to its net profit after tax. Looking at the data, we can see that 81% of Armada Hoffler Properties's profits were paid out as dividends in the last 12 months. It's paying out most of its earnings, which limits the amount that can be reinvested in the business. This may indicate limited need for further capital within the business, or highlight a commitment to paying a dividend.

In addition to comparing dividends against profits, we should inspect whether the company generated enough cash to pay its dividend. The company paid out 77% of its free cash flow as dividends last year, which is adequate, but reduces the wriggle room in the event of a downturn. It's positive to see that Armada Hoffler Properties'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.

Armada Hoffler Properties is a REIT, which is an investment structure that often has different payout rules compared to other companies. It is not uncommon for REITs to pay out 100% of their earnings each year.

Is Armada Hoffler Properties's Balance Sheet Risky?

As Armada Hoffler Properties has a meaningful amount of debt, we need to check its balance sheet to see if the company might have debt risks. A quick check of its financial situation can be done with two ratios: net debt divided by EBITDA (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation), and 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 a net debt to EBITDA ratio of 10.64 times, Armada Hoffler Properties is very highly levered. While this debt might be serviceable, we would still say it carries substantial risk for the investor who hopes to live on the dividend.

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 3.46 times its interest expense, Armada Hoffler Properties'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.

Consider getting our latest analysis on Armada Hoffler Properties'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. Armada Hoffler Properties has been paying a dividend for the past six years. The dividend has been quite stable over the past six years, which is great to see - although we usually like to see the dividend maintained for a decade before giving it full marks, though. During the past six-year period, the first annual payment was US$0.63 in 2013, compared to US$0.84 last year. This works out to be a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of approximately 4.9% a year over that time.

We like that the dividend hasn't been shrinking. However we're conscious that the company hasn't got an overly long track record of dividend payments yet, which makes us wary of relying on its dividend income.

Dividend Growth Potential

Examining whether the dividend is affordable and stable is important. However, it's also important to assess if earnings per share (EPS) are growing. Growing EPS can help maintain or increase the purchasing power of the dividend over the long run. Over the past five years, it looks as though Armada Hoffler Properties's EPS have declined at around 2.1% a year. 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.

We'd also point out that Armada Hoffler Properties issued a meaningful number of new shares in the past year. Trying to grow the dividend when issuing new shares reminds us of the ancient Greek tale of Sisyphus - perpetually pushing a boulder uphill. Companies that consistently issue new shares are often suboptimal from a dividend perspective.

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. First, we think Armada Hoffler Properties is paying out an acceptable percentage of its cashflow and profit. Earnings per share are down, and to our mind Armada Hoffler Properties has not been paying a dividend long enough to demonstrate its resilience across economic cycles. With this information in mind, we think Armada Hoffler Properties may not be an ideal dividend stock.

Without at least some growth in earnings per share over time, the dividend will eventually come under pressure either from costs or inflation. See if the 5 analysts are forecasting a turnaround in our free collection of analyst estimates here.

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.