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Here's How We Evaluate E.ON SE's (FRA:EOAN) Dividend

Simply Wall St

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Dividend paying stocks like E.ON SE (FRA:EOAN) 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 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, E.ON likely looks attractive to dividend investors, given its 4.6% dividend yield and nine-year payment history. It sure looks interesting on these metrics - but there's always more to the story . Some simple analysis can offer a lot of insights when buying a company for its dividend, and we'll go through this below.

Explore this interactive chart for our latest analysis on E.ON!

DB:EOAN Historical Dividend Yield, June 23rd 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. Looking at the data, we can see that 40% of E.ON's profits were paid out as dividends in the last 12 months. This is a middling range that strikes a nice balance between paying dividends to shareholders, and retaining enough earnings to invest in future growth. Plus, there is room to increase the payout ratio over time.

We also measure dividends paid against a company's levered free cash flow, to see if enough cash was generated to cover the dividend. Unfortunately, while E.ON pays a dividend, it also reported negative free cash flow last year. While there may be a good reason for this, it's not ideal from a dividend perspective. It's positive to see that E.ON's dividend is covered by both profits and cash flow, since this is generally a sign that the dividend is sustainable, and a lower payout ratio usually suggests a greater margin of safety before the dividend gets cut.

Is E.ON's Balance Sheet Risky?

As E.ON has a meaningful amount of debt, we need to check its balance sheet to see if the company might have debt risks. A rough way to check this is with these two simple ratios: a) net debt divided by EBITDA (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation), and b) 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 on debt. Essentially we check that a) a company does not have too much debt, and b) that it can afford to pay the interest. With net debt of 1.98 times its earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA), E.ON has an acceptable level of debt.

Net interest cover can be calculated by dividing earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) by the company's net interest expense. With EBIT of 3.40 times its interest expense, E.ON's interest cover is starting to look a bit thin.

Remember, you can always get a snapshot of E.ON's latest financial position, by checking our visualisation of its financial health.

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. Looking at the last decade of data, we can see that E.ON paid its first dividend at least nine years ago. Although it has been paying a dividend for several years now, the dividend has been cut at least once by more than 20%, and we're cautious about the consistency of its dividend across a full economic cycle. During the past nine-year period, the first annual payment was €1.50 in 2010, compared to €0.46 last year. This works out to a decline of approximately 69% over that time.

When a company's per-share dividend falls we question if this reflects poorly on either the business or management. Either way, we find it hard to get excited about a company with a declining dividend.

Dividend Growth Potential

Given that dividend payments have been shrinking like a glacier in a warming world, we need to check if there are some bright spots on the horizon. While there may be fluctuations in the past , E.ON's earnings per share have basically not grown from where they were five years ago. Flat earnings per share are acceptable for a time, but over the long term, the purchasing power of the company's dividends could be eroded by inflation. E.ON is paying out less than half of its earnings, which we like. However, earnings per share are unfortunately not growing much. Might this suggest that the company should pay a higher dividend instead?

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. First, we like E.ON's low dividend payout ratio, although we're a bit concerned that it paid out a substantially higher percentage of its free cash flow. Second, earnings growth has been ordinary, and its history of dividend payments is chequered - having cut its dividend at least once in the past. While we're not hugely bearish on it, overall we think there are potentially better dividend stocks than E.ON out there.

Earnings growth generally bodes well for the future value of company dividend payments. See if the 19 E.ON analysts we track are forecasting continued growth with our free report on 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.