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Does Steamships Trading Company Limited (ASX:SST) Have A Place In Your Dividend Stock Portfolio?

Simply Wall St

Is Steamships Trading Company Limited (ASX:SST) a good dividend stock? How can we tell? Dividend paying companies with growing earnings can be highly rewarding in the long term. If you are hoping to live on your dividends, it's important to be more stringent with your investments than the average punter. Regular readers know we like to apply the same approach to each dividend stock, and we hope you'll find our analysis useful.

In this case, Steamships Trading likely looks attractive to investors, given its 4.4% dividend yield and a payment history of over ten years. We'd guess that plenty of investors have purchased it for the income. Some simple analysis can reduce the risk of holding Steamships Trading for its dividend, and we'll focus on the most important aspects below.

Explore this interactive chart for our latest analysis on Steamships Trading!

ASX:SST Historical Dividend Yield, July 30th 2019

Payout ratios

Dividends are usually paid out of company earnings. If a company is paying more than it earns, 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. Steamships Trading paid out 260% of its profit as dividends, over the trailing twelve month period. Unless there are extenuating circumstances, from the perspective of an investor who hopes to own the company for many years, a payout ratio of above 100% is definitely a concern.

Another important check we do is to see if the free cash flow generated is sufficient to pay the dividend. Steamships Trading paid out a conservative 44% of its free cash flow as dividends last year. It's good to see that while Steamships Trading's dividends were not covered by profits, at least they are affordable from a cash perspective. Still, if the company repeatedly paid a dividend greater than its profits, we'd be concerned. Very few companies are able to sustainably pay dividends larger than their reported earnings.

Is Steamships Trading's Balance Sheet Risky?

As Steamships Trading's dividend was not well covered by earnings, 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). Steamships Trading has net debt of 1.08 times its EBITDA, which we think is not too troublesome.

We calculated its interest cover by measuring its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT), and dividing this by the company's net interest expense. Net interest cover of 8.17 times its interest expense appears reasonable for Steamships Trading, although we're conscious that even high interest cover doesn't make a company bulletproof.

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

Dividend Volatility

One of the major risks of relying on dividend income, is the potential for a company to struggle financially and cut its dividend. Not only is your income cut, but the value of your investment declines as well - nasty. Steamships Trading has been paying dividends for a long time, but for the purpose of this analysis, we only examine the past 10 years of payments. This dividend has been unstable, which we define as having fallen by at least 20% one or more times over this time. During the past ten-year period, the first annual payment was K1.35 in 2009, compared to K1.65 last year. This works out to be a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of approximately 2.0% a year over that time. The dividends haven't grown at precisely 2.0% every year, but this is a useful way to average out the historical rate of growth.

It's good to see some dividend growth, but the dividend has been cut at least once, and the size of the cut would eliminate most of the growth, anyway. We're not that enthused by this.

Dividend Growth Potential

Given that the dividend has been cut in the past, we need to check if earnings are growing and if that might lead to stronger dividends in the future. Steamships Trading's EPS have fallen by approximately 30% per year. With this kind of significant decline, we always wonder what has changed in the business. Dividends are about stability, and Steamships Trading's earnings per share, which support the dividend, have been anything but stable.

Conclusion

When we look at a dividend stock, we need to form a judgement on whether the dividend will grow, if the company is able to maintain it in a wide range of economic circumstances, and if the dividend payout is sustainable. We're a bit uncomfortable with its high payout ratio, although at least the dividend was covered by free cash flow. Second, earnings per share have been essentially flat, and its history of dividend payments is chequered - having cut its dividend at least once in the past. In summary, Steamships Trading has a number of shortcomings that we'd find it hard to get past. Things could change, but we think there are likely more attractive alternatives out there.

You can also discover whether shareholders are aligned with insider interests by checking our visualisation of insider shareholdings and trades in Steamships Trading 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.