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Encompass Health Corporation (NYSE:EHC) stock is about to trade ex-dividend in 4 days. The ex-dividend date occurs one day before the record date which is the day on which shareholders need to be on the company's books in order to receive a dividend. The ex-dividend date is of consequence because whenever a stock is bought or sold, the trade takes at least two business day to settle. Accordingly, Encompass Health investors that purchase the stock on or after the 30th of June will not receive the dividend, which will be paid on the 15th of July.
The company's next dividend payment will be US$0.28 per share, and in the last 12 months, the company paid a total of US$1.12 per share. Based on the last year's worth of payments, Encompass Health stock has a trailing yield of around 1.4% on the current share price of $79.96. We love seeing companies pay a dividend, but it's also important to be sure that laying the golden eggs isn't going to kill our golden goose! So we need to check whether the dividend payments are covered, and if earnings are growing.
Dividends are typically paid out of company income, so if a company pays out more than it earned, its dividend is usually at a higher risk of being cut. Encompass Health paid out a comfortable 36% of its profit last year. Yet cash flows are even more important than profits for assessing a dividend, so we need to see if the company generated enough cash to pay its distribution. Fortunately, it paid out only 27% of its free cash flow in the past year.
It's positive to see that Encompass Health'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.
Have Earnings And Dividends Been Growing?
Companies with consistently growing earnings per share generally make the best dividend stocks, as they usually find it easier to grow dividends per share. Investors love dividends, so if earnings fall and the dividend is reduced, expect a stock to be sold off heavily at the same time. This is why it's a relief to see Encompass Health earnings per share are up 8.6% per annum over the last five years. The company is retaining more than half of its earnings within the business, and it has been growing earnings at a decent rate. We think this is generally an attractive combination, as dividends can grow through a combination of earnings growth and or a higher payout ratio over time.
The main way most investors will assess a company's dividend prospects is by checking the historical rate of dividend growth. Encompass Health has delivered 5.7% dividend growth per year on average over the past eight years. It's encouraging to see the company lifting dividends while earnings are growing, suggesting at least some corporate interest in rewarding shareholders.
To Sum It Up
Is Encompass Health an attractive dividend stock, or better left on the shelf? Earnings per share growth has been growing somewhat, and Encompass Health is paying out less than half its earnings and cash flow as dividends. This is interesting for a few reasons, as it suggests management may be reinvesting heavily in the business, but it also provides room to increase the dividend in time. We would prefer to see earnings growing faster, but the best dividend stocks over the long term typically combine significant earnings per share growth with a low payout ratio, and Encompass Health is halfway there. There's a lot to like about Encompass Health, and we would prioritise taking a closer look at it.
In light of that, while Encompass Health has an appealing dividend, it's worth knowing the risks involved with this stock. Our analysis shows 2 warning signs for Encompass Health and you should be aware of these before buying any shares.
If you're in the market for dividend stocks, we recommend checking our list of top dividend stocks with a greater than 2% yield and an upcoming dividend.
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. We aim to bring you long-term focused analysis driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis may not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements or qualitative material. Simply Wall St has no position in any stocks mentioned.
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