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Here's What You Should Know About Watsco, Inc.'s (NYSE:WSO) 3.6% Dividend Yield

Simply Wall St

Is Watsco, Inc. (NYSE:WSO) 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 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 Watsco. It would not be a surprise to discover that many investors buy it for the dividends. Some simple research can reduce the risk of buying Watsco for its dividend - read on to learn more.

Explore this interactive chart for our latest analysis on Watsco!

NYSE:WSO Historical Dividend Yield, November 15th 2019

Payout ratios

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. 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. Watsco paid out 95% of its profit as dividends, over the trailing twelve month period. With a payout ratio this high, we'd say its dividend is not well covered by earnings. This may be fine if earnings are growing, but it might not take much of a downturn for the dividend to come under pressure.

Another important check we do is to see if the free cash flow generated is sufficient to pay the dividend. The company paid out 84% of its free cash flow as dividends last year, which is adequate, but reduces the wriggle room in the event of a downturn. It's good to see that while Watsco's dividends were not well covered by profits, at least they are affordable from a free cash flow perspective. Even so, if the company were to continue paying out almost all of its profits, we'd be concerned about whether the dividend is sustainable in a downturn.

Is Watsco's Balance Sheet Risky?

As Watsco's dividend was not well covered by earnings, we need to check its balance sheet for signs of financial distress. 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). With net debt of 0.28 times its EBITDA, Watsco has an acceptable level of debt.

We calculated its interest cover by measuring its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT), and dividing this by the company's net interest expense. Watsco has interest cover of more than 12 times its interest expense, which we think is quite strong.

Remember, you can always get a snapshot of Watsco'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. For the purpose of this article, we only scrutinise the last decade of Watsco'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$1.80 in 2009, compared to US$6.40 last year. Dividends per share have grown at approximately 14% per year over this time. Watsco's dividend payments have fluctuated, so it hasn't grown 14% every year, but the CAGR is a useful rule of thumb for approximating the historical growth.

It's not great to see that the payment has been cut in the past. We're generally more wary of companies that have cut their dividend before, as they tend to perform worse in an economic downturn.

Dividend Growth Potential

With a relatively unstable dividend, it's even more important to see if earnings per share (EPS) are growing. Why take the risk of a dividend getting cut, unless there's a good chance of bigger dividends in future? Strong earnings per share (EPS) growth might encourage our interest in the company despite fluctuating dividends, which is why it's great to see Watsco has grown its earnings per share at 12% per annum over the past five years. Although earnings per share are up nicely Watsco is paying out 95% of its earnings as dividends, which we feel is borderline unsustainable without extenuating circumstances.

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 not keen on the fact that Watsco paid out such a high percentage of its income, although its cashflow is in better shape. Next, earnings growth has been good, but unfortunately the dividend has been cut at least once in the past. In sum, we find it hard to get excited about Watsco 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.

Earnings growth generally bodes well for the future value of company dividend payments. See if the 10 Watsco analysts we track are forecasting continued growth with our free report on analyst estimates for the company.

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.