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Today we'll take a closer look at Cousins Properties Incorporated (NYSE:CUZ) 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. If you are hoping to live on the income from dividends, it's important to be a lot more stringent with your investments than the average punter.
A high yield and a long history of paying dividends is an appealing combination for Cousins Properties. We'd guess that plenty of investors have purchased it for the income. Some simple research can reduce the risk of buying Cousins Properties for its dividend - read on to learn more.
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 be form a view on if a company's dividend is sustainable, relative to its net profit after tax. In the last year, Cousins Properties paid out 38% of its profit as dividends. This is medium payout level that leaves enough capital in the business to fund opportunities that might arise, while also rewarding shareholders. One of the risks is that management reinvests the retained capital poorly instead of paying a higher dividend.
In addition to comparing dividends against profits, we should inspect whether the company generated enough cash to pay its dividend. Of the free cash flow it generated last year, Cousins Properties paid out 42% as dividends, suggesting the dividend is affordable. It's encouraging to see that the dividend is covered by both profit and cash flow. This generally suggests the dividend is sustainable, as long as earnings don't drop precipitously.
Is Cousins Properties's Balance Sheet Risky?
As Cousins Properties has a meaningful amount of debt, we need to check its balance sheet to see if the company might have debt risks. A quick way to check a company's financial situation uses these two ratios: net debt divided by EBITDA (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation), and net interest cover. Net debt to EBITDA measures a company's total debt load relative to its earnings (lower = less debt), while net interest cover measures the company's ability to pay the interest on its debt (higher = greater ability to pay interest costs). Cousins Properties is carrying net debt of 3.88 times its EBITDA, which is getting towards the upper limit of our comfort range on a dividend stock that the investor hopes will endure a wide range of economic circumstances.
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 less than 5x its interest expense is starting to become a concern for Cousins Properties, and be aware that lenders may place additional restrictions on the company as well.
Consider getting our latest analysis on Cousins Properties's financial position here.
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. For the purpose of this article, we only scrutinise the last decade of Cousins Properties's dividend 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 US$0.60 in 2009, compared to US$0.29 last year. The dividend has shrunk at around 7.0% a year during that period. Cousins Properties's dividend hasn't shrunk linearly at 7.0% per annum, but the CAGR is a useful estimate of the historical rate of change.
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
With a relatively unstable dividend, and a poor history of shrinking dividends, it's even more important to see if EPS are growing. It's not great to see that Cousins Properties's have fallen at approximately 19% over the past five years. If earnings continue to decline, the dividend may come under pressure. Every investor should make an assessment of whether the company is taking steps to stabilise the situation.
To summarise, shareholders should always check that Cousins Properties's dividends are affordable, that its dividend payments are relatively stable, and that it has decent prospects for growing its earnings and dividend. It's great to see that Cousins Properties is paying out a low percentage of its earnings and cash flow. Earnings per share are down, and Cousins Properties's dividend has been cut at least once in the past, which is disappointing. In sum, we find it hard to get excited about Cousins Properties 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.
Given that earnings are not growing, the dividend does not look nearly so attractive. Very few businesses see earnings consistently shrink year after year in perpetuity though, and so it might be worth seeing what the 5 analysts we track are forecasting for the future.
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 email@example.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.