Some investors rely on dividends for growing their wealth, and if you're one of those dividend sleuths, you might be intrigued to know that Escalade, Incorporated (NASDAQ:ESCA) is about to go ex-dividend in just 3 days. If you purchase the stock on or after the 6th of December, you won't be eligible to receive this dividend, when it is paid on the 16th of December.
Escalade's next dividend payment will be US$0.13 per share. Last year, in total, the company distributed US$0.50 to shareholders. Based on the last year's worth of payments, Escalade stock has a trailing yield of around 4.4% on the current share price of $11.41. Dividends are a major contributor to investment returns for long term holders, but only if the dividend continues to be paid. That's why we should always check whether the dividend payments appear sustainable, and if the company is growing.
Dividends are usually paid out of company profits, so if a company pays out more than it earned then its dividend is usually at greater risk of being cut. It paid out 87% of its earnings as dividends last year, which is not unreasonable, but limits reinvestment in the business and leaves the dividend vulnerable to a business downturn. We'd be concerned if earnings began to decline. Yet cash flow is typically more important than profit for assessing dividend sustainability, so we should always check if the company generated enough cash to afford its dividend. Over the past year it paid out 123% of its free cash flow as dividends, which is uncomfortably high. It's hard to consistently pay out more cash than you generate without either borrowing or using company cash, so we'd wonder how the company justifies this payout level.
Escalade paid out less in dividends than it reported in profits, but unfortunately it didn't generate enough cash to cover the dividend. Cash is king, as they say, and were Escalade to repeatedly pay dividends that aren't well covered by cashflow, we would consider this a warning sign.
Have Earnings And Dividends Been Growing?
Businesses with shrinking earnings are tricky from a dividend perspective. If earnings decline and the company is forced to cut its dividend, investors could watch the value of their investment go up in smoke. Readers will understand then, why we're concerned to see Escalade's earnings per share have dropped 9.3% a year over the past five years. When earnings per share fall, the maximum amount of dividends that can be paid also falls.
Another key way to measure a company's dividend prospects is by measuring its historical rate of dividend growth. Escalade has delivered an average of 7.2% per year annual increase in its dividend, based on the past ten years of dividend payments. The only way to pay higher dividends when earnings are shrinking is either to pay out a larger percentage of profits, spend cash from the balance sheet, or borrow the money. Escalade is already paying out a high percentage of its income, so without earnings growth, we're doubtful of whether this dividend will grow much in the future.
Has Escalade got what it takes to maintain its dividend payments? It's definitely not great to see earnings per share shrinking. The company paid out an acceptable percentage of its income, but an uncomfortably high percentage of its cash flow over the past year. It's not the most attractive proposition from a dividend perspective, and we'd probably give this one a miss for now.
Want to learn more about Escalade's dividend performance? Check out this visualisation of its historical revenue and earnings growth.
A common investment mistake is buying the first interesting stock you see. Here you can find a list of promising dividend stocks with a greater than 2% yield and an upcoming dividend.
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