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Are Dividend Investors Getting More Than They Bargained For With 1300SMILES Limited's (ASX:ONT) Dividend?

Simply Wall St

Today we'll take a closer look at 1300SMILES Limited (ASX:ONT) from a dividend investor's perspective. Owning a strong business and reinvesting the dividends is widely seen as an attractive way of growing your wealth. 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 1300SMILES. We'd guess that plenty of investors have purchased it for the income. There are a few simple ways to reduce the risks of buying 1300SMILES for its dividend, and we'll go through these below.

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ASX:ONT Historical Dividend Yield, May 20th 2019

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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. As a result, we should always investigate whether a company can afford its dividend, measured as a percentage of a company's net income after tax. In the last year, 1300SMILES paid out 74% of its profit as dividends. This is a fairly normal payout ratio among most businesses. It allows a higher dividend to be paid to shareholders, but does limit the capital retained in the business - which could be good or bad.

In addition to comparing dividends against profits, we should inspect whether the company generated enough cash to pay its dividend. 1300SMILES paid out 132% of its free cash flow last year, suggesting the dividend is poorly covered by cash flow. Paying out more than 100% of your free cash flow in dividends is generally not a long-term, sustainable state of affairs, so we think shareholders should watch this metric closely.


We update our data on 1300SMILES every 24 hours, so you can always get our latest analysis of its financial health, here.

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. For the purpose of this article, we only scrutinise the last decade of 1300SMILES's dividend payments. The dividend has been cut by more than 20% on at least one occasion historically. During the past ten-year period, the first annual payment was AU$0.12 in 2009, compared to AU$0.25 last year. Dividends per share have grown at approximately 7.6% per year over this time. The dividends haven't grown at precisely 7.6% every year, but this is a useful way to average out the historical rate of growth.

Dividends have grown at a reasonable rate, but with at least one substantial cut in the payments, we're not certain this dividend stock would be ideal for someone intending to live on the income.

Dividend Growth Potential

With a relatively unstable dividend, it's even more important to evaluate if earnings per share (EPS) are growing - it's not worth taking the risk on a dividend getting cut, unless you might be rewarded with larger dividends in future. Earnings have grown at around 4.1% a year for the past five years, which is better than seeing them shrink! Growth of 4.1% is relatively anaemic growth, which we wonder about. If the company is struggling to grow, perhaps that's why it elects to pay out more than half of its earnings to shareholders.

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. 1300SMILES gets a pass on its dividend payout ratio, but it paid out virtually all of its cash flow as dividends. This may just be a one-off, but we'd keep an eye on this. Unfortunately, earnings growth has also been mediocre, and the company has cut its dividend at least once in the past. With this information in mind, we think 1300SMILES may not be an ideal dividend stock.

Earnings growth generally bodes well for the future value of company dividend payments. See if the 3 1300SMILES analysts we track are forecasting continued growth with our free report on analyst estimates for the company.

If you are a dividend investor, you might also want to look at our curated list of dividend stocks yielding above 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.