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Should You Buy Four Seas Mercantile Holdings Limited (HKG:374) For Its 3.0% Dividend?

Simply Wall St

Could Four Seas Mercantile Holdings Limited (HKG:374) be an attractive dividend share to own for the long haul? Investors are often drawn to strong companies with the idea of reinvesting the dividends. Yet sometimes, investors buy a popular dividend stock because of its yield, and then lose money if the company's dividend doesn't live up to expectations.

A high yield and a long history of paying dividends is an appealing combination for Four Seas Mercantile Holdings. We'd guess that plenty of investors have purchased it for the income. When buying stocks for their dividends, you should always run through the checks below, to see if the dividend looks sustainable.

Click the interactive chart for our full dividend analysis

SEHK:374 Historical Dividend Yield, October 3rd 2019

Payout ratios

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. So we need to form a view on if a company's dividend is sustainable, relative to its net profit after tax. In the last year, Four Seas Mercantile Holdings paid out 121% of its profit as dividends. 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.

In addition to comparing dividends against profits, we should inspect whether the company generated enough cash to pay its dividend. Four Seas Mercantile Holdings paid out 294% of its free cash flow last year, which we think is concerning if cash flows do not improve. Paying out such a high percentage of cash flow suggests that the dividend was funded from either cash at bank or by borrowing, neither of which is desirable over the long term. Cash is slightly more important than profit from a dividend perspective, but given Four Seas Mercantile Holdings's payouts were not well covered by either earnings or cash flow, we would definitely be concerned about the sustainability of this dividend.

With a strong net cash balance, Four Seas Mercantile Holdings investors may not have much to worry about in the near term from a dividend perspective.

Remember, you can always get a snapshot of Four Seas Mercantile Holdings's latest financial position, by checking our visualisation of its financial health.

Dividend Volatility

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. Four Seas Mercantile Holdings has been paying dividends for a long time, but for the purpose of this analysis, we only examine the past 10 years of payments. During this period the dividend has been stable, which could imply the business could have relatively consistent earnings power. During the past ten-year period, the first annual payment was HK$0.07 in 2009, compared to HK$0.095 last year. This works out to be a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of approximately 3.1% a year over that time.

Slow and steady dividend growth might not sound that exciting, but dividends have been stable for ten years, which we think is seriously impressive.

Dividend Growth Potential

While dividend payments have been relatively reliable, it would also be nice if earnings per share (EPS) were growing, as this is essential to maintaining the dividend's purchasing power over the long term. Four Seas Mercantile Holdings's earnings per share have shrunk at 28% a year over the past five years. A sharp decline in earnings per share is not great from from a dividend perspective, as even conservative payout ratios can come under pressure if earnings fall far enough.

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. It's a concern to see that the company paid out such a high percentage of its earnings and cashflow as dividends. Second, earnings per share have actually shrunk, but at least the dividends have been relatively stable. There are a few too many issues for us to get comfortable with Four Seas Mercantile Holdings from a dividend perspective. Businesses can change, but we would struggle to identify why an investor should rely on this stock for their income.

Now, if you want to look closer, it would be worth checking out our free research on Four Seas Mercantile Holdings management tenure, salary, and performance.

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.