U.S. Markets open in 4 hrs 13 mins

How Does Hydro One Limited (TSE:H) Fare As A Dividend Stock?

Simply Wall St

Dividend paying stocks like Hydro One Limited (TSE:H) 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. On the other hand, investors have been known to buy a stock because of its yield, and then lose money if the company's dividend doesn't live up to expectations.

In this case, Hydro One likely looks attractive to dividend investors, given its 4.1% dividend yield and four-year payment history. We'd agree the yield does look enticing. Some simple analysis can reduce the risk of holding Hydro One for its dividend, and we'll focus on the most important aspects below.

Click the interactive chart for our full dividend analysis

TSX:H Historical Dividend Yield, November 13th 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. 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. Although Hydro One pays a dividend, it was loss-making during the past year. When a company recently reported a loss, we should investigate if its cash flows covered the dividend.

Last year, Hydro One paid a dividend while reporting negative free cash flow. While there may be an explanation, we think this behaviour is generally not sustainable.

Is Hydro One's Balance Sheet Risky?

Given Hydro One is paying a dividend but reported a loss over the past year, we need to check its balance sheet for signs of financial distress. 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). Hydro One has net debt of 5.95 times its EBITDA, which implies meaningful risk if interest rates rise of earnings decline.

Net interest cover can be calculated by dividing earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) by the company's net interest expense. Interest cover of 2.96 times its interest expense is starting to become a concern for Hydro One, and be aware that lenders may place additional restrictions on the company as well. High debt and weak interest cover are not a great combo, and we would be cautious of relying on this company's dividend while these metrics persist.

We update our data on Hydro One every 24 hours, so you can always get our latest analysis of its financial health, 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. Hydro One has been paying a dividend for the past four years. The dividend has not fluctuated much, but with a relatively short payment history, we can't be sure this is sustainable across a full market cycle. During the past four-year period, the first annual payment was CA$0.84 in 2015, compared to CA$0.97 last year. This works out to be a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of approximately 3.6% a year over that time.

It's good to see at least some dividend growth. Yet with a relatively short dividend paying history, we wouldn't want to depend on this dividend too heavily.

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. Hydro One's earnings per share have shrunk at 109% 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. Hydro One's dividend is not well covered by free cash flow, plus it paid a dividend while being unprofitable. Earnings per share are down, and to our mind Hydro One has not been paying a dividend long enough to demonstrate its resilience across economic cycles. In this analysis, Hydro One 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.

Without at least some growth in earnings per share over time, the dividend will eventually come under pressure either from costs or inflation. Businesses can change though, and we think it would make sense to see what analysts are forecasting for the company.

Looking for more high-yielding dividend ideas? Try our curated list of dividend stocks with a yield 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.