Dividend paying stocks like Dow Inc. (NYSE:DOW) 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.
Dow has only been paying a dividend for a year or so, so investors might be curious about its 5.1% yield. The company also returned around 1.0% of its market capitalisation to shareholders in the form of stock buybacks over the past year. Some simple research can reduce the risk of buying Dow for its dividend - read on to learn more.
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. Dow paid out 107% of its profit as dividends, over the trailing twelve month period. Unless there are extenuating circumstances, from the perspective of an investor who hopes to own the company for many years, a payout ratio of above 100% is definitely a concern.
Another important check we do is to see if the free cash flow generated is sufficient to pay the dividend. Dow paid out 60% of its free cash flow last year, which is acceptable, but is starting to limit the amount of earnings that can be reinvested into the business. It's disappointing to see that the dividend was not covered by profits, but cash is more important from a dividend sustainability perspective, and Dow fortunately did generate enough cash to fund its dividend. Still, if the company repeatedly paid a dividend greater than its profits, we'd be concerned. Extraordinarily few companies are capable of persistently paying a dividend that is greater than their profits.
Is Dow's Balance Sheet Risky?
As Dow's dividend was not well covered by earnings, we need to check its balance sheet for signs of financial distress. 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). Dow has net debt of 2.26 times its EBITDA. Using debt can accelerate business growth, but also increases the risks.
Net interest cover can be calculated by dividing earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) by the company's net interest expense. With EBIT of 4.25 times its interest expense, Dow's interest cover is starting to look a bit thin.
Consider getting our latest analysis on Dow's financial position here.
Before buying a stock for its income, we want to see if the dividends have been stable in the past, and if the company has a track record of maintaining its dividend. With a payment history of less than 2 years, we think it's a bit too soon to think about living on the income from its dividend. Its most recent annual dividend was US$2.80 per share.
Modest dividend growth is good to see, especially with the payments being relatively stable. However, the payment history is relatively short and we wouldn't want to rely on this dividend too much.
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. We're a bit uncomfortable with its high payout ratio, although at least the dividend was covered by free cash flow. Unfortunately, there hasn't been any earnings growth, and the company's dividend history is shorter than the 10 years we ideally like to see before making a strong judgement. In summary, Dow has a number of shortcomings that we'd find it hard to get past. Things could change, but we think there are likely more attractive alternatives out there.
We have also put together a list of global stocks with a market capitalisation above $1bn and yielding more 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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