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Dividend paying stocks like Alexandria Real Estate Equities, Inc. (NYSE:ARE) tend to be popular with investors, and for good reason - some research suggests a significant amount of all stock market returns come from reinvested dividends. 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.
While Alexandria Real Estate Equities's 2.7% dividend yield is not the highest, we think its lengthy payment history is quite interesting. Before you buy any stock for its dividend however, you should always remember Warren Buffett's two rules: 1) Don't lose money, and 2) Remember rule #1. We'll run through some checks below to help with this.
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, Alexandria Real Estate Equities paid out 51% 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.
We also measure dividends paid against a company's levered free cash flow, to see if enough cash was generated to cover the dividend. Alexandria Real Estate Equities paid out 70% of its cash flow as dividends last year, which is within a reasonable range for the average corporation. 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.
REITs like Alexandria Real Estate Equities often have different rules governing their distributions, so a higher payout ratio on its own is not unusual.
Is Alexandria Real Estate Equities's Balance Sheet Risky?
As Alexandria Real Estate Equities has a meaningful amount of debt, we need to check its balance sheet to see if the company might have debt risks. A quick check of its financial situation can be done with two ratios: net debt divided by EBITDA (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation), and net interest cover. Net debt to EBITDA measures total debt load relative to company earnings (lower = less debt), while net interest cover measures the ability to pay interest on the debt (higher = greater ability to pay interest costs). With net debt of 6.44 times its EBITDA, Alexandria Real Estate Equities could be described as a highly leveraged company. While some companies can handle this level of leverage, we'd be concerned about the dividend sustainability if there was any risk of an earnings downturn.
Net interest cover can be calculated by dividing earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) by the company's net interest expense. Alexandria Real Estate Equities has interest cover of more than 12 times its interest expense, which we think is quite strong. Adequate interest cover may make the debt look safe, relative to companies with a lower interest cover ratio. However with such a large mountain of debt overall, we're cautious of what could happen if interest rates rise.
We update our data on Alexandria Real Estate Equities every 24 hours, so you can always get our latest analysis of its financial health, here.
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. Alexandria Real Estate Equities 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 the past ten-year period, the first annual payment was US$3.20 in 2009, compared to US$4.00 last year. This works out to be a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of approximately 2.3% a year over that time.
While the consistency in the dividend payments is impressive, we think the relatively slow rate of growth is unappealing.
Dividend Growth Potential
Examining whether the dividend is affordable and stable is important. However, it's also important to assess if earnings per share (EPS) are growing. Over the long term, dividends need to grow at or above the rate of inflation, in order to maintain the recipient's purchasing power. It's good to see Alexandria Real Estate Equities has been growing its earnings per share at 16% a year over the past 5 years. Earnings per share have been growing rapidly, but given that it is paying out more than half of its earnings as dividends, we wonder how Alexandria Real Estate Equities will keep funding its growth projects in the future.
We'd also point out that Alexandria Real Estate Equities issued a meaningful number of new shares in the past year. Trying to grow the dividend when issuing new shares reminds us of the ancient Greek tale of Sisyphus - perpetually pushing a boulder uphill. Companies that consistently issue new shares are often suboptimal from a dividend perspective.
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. Alexandria Real Estate Equities's is paying out more than half its income as dividends, but at least the dividend is covered by both reported earnings and cashflow. That said, we were glad to see it growing earnings and paying a fairly consistent dividend. Alexandria Real Estate Equities has a number of positive attributes, but it falls slightly short of our (admittedly high) standards. Were there evidence of a strong moat or an attractive valuation, it could still be well worth a look.
Companies that are growing earnings tend to be the best dividend stocks over the long term. See what the 4 analysts we track are forecasting for Alexandria Real Estate Equities for free with public analyst estimates for the company.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.