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Is Cogent Communications Holdings, Inc. (NASDAQ:CCOI) a good dividend stock? How would you know? Dividend paying companies with growing earnings can be highly rewarding in the long term. 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.
In this case, Cogent Communications Holdings likely looks attractive to dividend investors, given its 4.2% dividend yield and seven-year payment history. We'd agree the yield does look enticing. There are a few simple ways to reduce the risks of buying Cogent Communications Holdings for its dividend, and we'll go through these below.
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. Comparing dividend payments to a company's net profit after tax is a simple way of reality-checking whether a dividend is sustainable. In the last year, Cogent Communications Holdings paid out 321% 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.
Another important check we do is to see if the free cash flow generated is sufficient to pay the dividend. With a cash payout ratio of 116%, Cogent Communications Holdings's dividend payments are poorly covered by cash flow. Cash is slightly more important than profit from a dividend perspective, but given Cogent Communications Holdings's payments were not well covered by either earnings or cash flow, we are concerned about the sustainability of this dividend.
Is Cogent Communications Holdings's Balance Sheet Risky?
As Cogent Communications Holdings'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 on debt. Essentially we check that a) a company does not have too much debt, and b) that it can afford to pay the interest. Cogent Communications Holdings has net debt of more than 3x its EBITDA, which is getting towards the limit of most investors' comfort zones. Judicious use of debt can enhance shareholder returns, but also adds to the risk if something goes awry.
Net interest cover can be calculated by dividing earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) by the company's net interest expense. With EBIT of 1.93 times its interest expense, Cogent Communications Holdings's interest cover is starting to look a bit thin.
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. Cogent Communications Holdings has been paying a dividend for the past seven years. Although it has been paying a dividend for several years now, the dividend has been cut at least once by more than 20%, and we're cautious about the consistency of its dividend across a full economic cycle. During the past seven-year period, the first annual payment was US$0.40 in 2012, compared to US$2.40 last year. Dividends per share have grown at approximately 29% per year over this time. The dividends haven't grown at precisely 29% every year, but this is a useful way to average out the historical rate of growth.
It's not great to see that the payment has been cut in the past. We're generally more wary of companies that have cut their dividend before, as they tend to perform worse in an economic downturn.
Dividend Growth Potential
Given that the dividend has been cut in the past, we need to check if earnings are growing and if that might lead to stronger dividends in the future. In the last five years, Cogent Communications Holdings's earnings per share have shrunk at approximately 11% 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.
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. Cogent Communications Holdings paid out almost all of its cash flow and profit as dividends, leaving little to reinvest in the business. Earnings per share have been falling, and the company has cut its dividend at least once in the past. From a dividend perspective, this is a cause for concern. In this analysis, Cogent Communications Holdings doesn't shape up too well as a dividend stock. We'd find it hard to look past the flaws, and would not be inclined to think of it as a reliable dividend payer.
Given that earnings are not growing, the dividend does not look nearly so attractive. See if the 15 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%.
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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. Thank you for reading.