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How Does Pennon Group Plc (LON:PNN) Fare As A Dividend Stock?

Simply Wall St

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Is Pennon Group Plc (LON:PNN) a good dividend stock? How can we tell? Dividend paying companies with growing earnings can be highly rewarding in the long term. Unfortunately, it's common for investors to be enticed in by the seemingly attractive yield, and lose money when the company has to cut its dividend payments.

In this case, Pennon Group likely looks attractive to investors, given its 5.5% dividend yield and a payment history of over ten years. 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 Pennon Group for its dividend, and we'll go through these below.

Explore this interactive chart for our latest analysis on Pennon Group!

LSE:PNN Historical Dividend Yield, July 15th 2019

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. So we need to form a view on if a company's dividend is sustainable, relative to its net profit after tax. In the last year, Pennon Group paid out 80% of its profit as dividends. Paying out a majority of its earnings limits the amount that can be reinvested in the business. This may indicate a commitment to paying a dividend, or a dearth of investment opportunities.

In addition to comparing dividends against profits, we should inspect whether the company generated enough cash to pay its dividend. Last year, Pennon Group paid a dividend while reporting negative free cash flow. While there may be an explanation, we think this behaviour is generally not sustainable.

Is Pennon Group's Balance Sheet Risky?

As Pennon Group 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 is a measure of a company's total debt. Net interest cover measures the ability to meet interest payments. Essentially we check that a) the company does not have too much debt, and b) that it can afford to pay the interest. With net debt of 6.14 times its EBITDA, Pennon Group 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. Pennon Group has EBIT of 5.02 times its interest expense, which we think is adequate. Despite a decent level of interest cover, shareholders should remain cautious about the high level of net debt. Rising rates or tighter debt markets have a nasty habit of making fools of highly-indebted dividend stocks.

Consider getting our latest analysis on Pennon Group'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. Pennon Group has been paying dividends for a long time, but for the purpose of this analysis, we only examine the past 10 years of payments. The dividend has been stable over the past 10 years, which is great. We think this could suggest some resilience to the business and its dividends. During the past ten-year period, the first annual payment was UK£0.20 in 2009, compared to UK£0.41 last year. This works out to be a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of approximately 7.3% a year over that time.

Companies like this, growing their dividend at a decent rate, can be very valuable over the long term, if the rate of growth can be maintained.

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. Earnings have grown at around 5.7% a year for the past five years, which is better than seeing them shrink! EPS have been growing at a reasonable rate, although with most of the profits being paid out to shareholders, we question if the company will be able to keep growing its dividends in the future.

Conclusion

To summarise, shareholders should always check that Pennon Group's dividends are affordable, that its dividend payments are relatively stable, and that it has decent prospects for growing its earnings and dividend. First, the company has a payout ratio that was within an average range for most dividend stocks, but it paid out virtually all of its generated cash flow. Second, earnings growth has been mediocre, but at least the dividends have been relatively stable. In sum, we find it hard to get excited about Pennon Group from a dividend perspective. It's not that we think it's a bad business; just that there are other companies that perform better on these criteria.

Companies that are growing earnings tend to be the best dividend stocks over the long term. See what the 11 analysts we track are forecasting for Pennon Group for free with public analyst estimates 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.