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Here's How We Evaluate Portland General Electric Company's (NYSE:POR) Dividend

Simply Wall St

Today we'll take a closer look at Portland General Electric Company (NYSE:POR) from a dividend investor's perspective. Owning a strong business and reinvesting the dividends is widely seen as an attractive way of growing your wealth. 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.

A slim 2.6% yield is hard to get excited about, but the long payment history is respectable. At the right price, or with strong growth opportunities, Portland General Electric could have potential. Some simple analysis can offer a lot of insights when buying a company for its dividend, and we'll go through this below.

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NYSE:POR Historical Dividend Yield, January 17th 2020

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. Portland General Electric paid out 66% of its profit as dividends, over the trailing twelve month period. This is a healthy payout ratio, and while it does limit the amount of earnings that can be reinvested in the business, there is also some room to lift the payout ratio over time.

Another important check we do is to see if the free cash flow generated is sufficient to pay the dividend. Last year, Portland General Electric paid a dividend while reporting negative free cash flow. While there may be an explanation, we think this behaviour is generally not sustainable.

Is Portland General Electric's Balance Sheet Risky?

As Portland General Electric 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 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). Portland General Electric has net debt of 3.25 times its EBITDA, which is getting towards the limit of most investors' comfort zones. Judicious use of debt can enhance shareholder returns, but also adds to the risk if something goes awry.

We calculated its interest cover by measuring its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT), and dividing this by the company's net interest expense. Interest cover of 2.44 times its interest expense is starting to become a concern for Portland General Electric, and be aware that lenders may place additional restrictions on the company as well.

Consider getting our latest analysis on Portland General Electric's financial position here.

Dividend Volatility

Before buying a stock for its income, we want to see if the dividends have been stable in the past, and if the company has a track record of maintaining its dividend. For the purpose of this article, we only scrutinise the last decade of Portland General Electric's dividend 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 US$0.98 in 2010, compared to US$1.54 last year. This works out to be a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of approximately 4.6% a year over that time.

Slow and steady dividend growth might not sound that exciting, but dividends have been stable for ten years, which we think is seriously impressive.

Dividend Growth Potential

Dividend payments have been consistent over the past few years, but we should always check if earnings per share (EPS) are growing, as this will help maintain the purchasing power of the dividend. It's good to see Portland General Electric has been growing its earnings per share at 11% a year over the past five years. Portland General Electric's earnings per share have grown rapidly in recent years, although more than half of its profits are being paid out as dividends, which makes us wonder if the company has a limited number of reinvestment opportunities in its business.

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. Portland General Electric gets a pass on its dividend payout ratio, but it paid out virtually all of its cash flow as dividends. This may just be a one-off, but we'd keep an eye on this. That said, we were glad to see it growing earnings and paying a fairly consistent dividend. While we're not hugely bearish on it, overall we think there are potentially better dividend stocks than Portland General Electric out there.

Companies that are growing earnings tend to be the best dividend stocks over the long term. See what the 9 analysts we track are forecasting for Portland General Electric for free with public analyst estimates for the company.

If you are a dividend investor, you might also want to look at our curated list of dividend stocks yielding above 3%.

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.

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. Thank you for reading.