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Could Universal Logistics Holdings, Inc. (NASDAQ:ULH) Have The Makings Of Another Dividend Aristocrat?

Simply Wall St

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Is Universal Logistics Holdings, Inc. (NASDAQ:ULH) a good dividend stock? How would you know? Dividend paying companies with growing earnings can be highly rewarding in the long term. If you are hoping to live on the income from dividends, it's important to be a lot more stringent with your investments than the average punter.

With a 2.1% yield and a seven-year payment history, investors probably think Universal Logistics Holdings looks like a reliable dividend stock. While the yield may not look too great, the relatively long payment history is interesting. 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

NasdaqGS:ULH Historical Dividend Yield, May 29th 2019

Payout ratios

Companies (usually) pay dividends out of their earnings. If a company is paying more than it earns, the dividend might have to be cut. So we need to be form a view on if a company's dividend is sustainable, relative to its net profit after tax. Universal Logistics Holdings paid out 20% of its profit as dividends, over the trailing twelve month period. We'd say its dividends are thoroughly covered by earnings.

We also measure dividends paid against a company's levered free cash flow, to see if enough cash was generated to cover the dividend. Universal Logistics Holdings's cash payout ratio last year was 19%, which is quite low and suggests that the dividend was thoroughly covered by cash flow. It's encouraging to see that the dividend is covered by both profit and cash flow. This generally suggests the dividend is sustainable, as long as earnings don't drop precipitously.

Is Universal Logistics Holdings's Balance Sheet Risky?

As Universal Logistics Holdings has a meaningful amount of debt, we need to check its balance sheet to see if the company might have debt risks. A quick way to check a company's financial situation uses these two ratios: net debt divided by EBITDA (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation), and net interest cover. Net debt to EBITDA measures a company's total debt load relative to its earnings (lower = less debt), while net interest cover measures the company's ability to pay the interest on its debt (higher = greater ability to pay interest costs). Universal Logistics Holdings has net debt of 2.69 times its earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortisation (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. Universal Logistics Holdings has EBIT of 6.32 times its interest expense, which we think is adequate.

Consider getting our latest analysis on Universal Logistics Holdings's financial position here.

Dividend Volatility

From the perspective of an income investor who wants to earn dividends for many years, there is not much point buying a stock if its dividend is regularly cut or is not reliable. Looking at the data, we can see that Universal Logistics Holdings has been paying a dividend for the past seven years. It's good to see that Universal Logistics Holdings has been paying a dividend for a number of years. However, the dividend has been cut at least once in the past, and we're concerned that what has been cut once, could be cut again. During the past seven-year period, the first annual payment was US$1.00 in 2012, compared to US$0.42 last year. Dividend payments have fallen sharply, down 58% over that time.

When a company's per-share dividend falls we question if this reflects poorly on either the business or management. Either way, we find it hard to get excited about a company with a declining dividend.

Dividend Growth Potential

Given that dividend payments have been shrinking like a glacier in a warming world, we need to check if there are some bright spots on the horizon. Universal Logistics Holdings has grown its earnings per share at 4.3% per annum over the past five years. Growth has been hard to come by. On the plus side, the dividend payout ratio is low and dividends could grow faster than earnings, if the company decides to increase its payout ratio.

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. Firstly, we like that Universal Logistics Holdings has low and conservative payout ratios. Unfortunately, earnings growth has also been mediocre, and the company has cut its dividend at least once in the past. Overall we think Universal Logistics Holdings is an interesting dividend stock, although it could be better.

See if management have their own wealth at stake, by checking insider shareholdings in Universal Logistics Holdings stock.

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.