Dividend paying stocks like Avangrid, Inc. (NYSE:AGR) 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. 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.
In this case, Avangrid likely looks attractive to dividend investors, given its 4.1% dividend yield and four-year payment history. It sure looks interesting on these metrics - but there's always more to the story . There are a few simple ways to reduce the risks of buying Avangrid for its dividend, and we'll go through these below.
Dividends are usually paid out of company earnings. If a company is paying more than it earns, then the dividend might become unsustainable - hardly an ideal situation. Comparing dividend payments to a company's net profit after tax is a simple way of reality-checking whether a dividend is sustainable. Avangrid paid out 75% of its profit as dividends, over the trailing twelve month period. Paying out a majority of its earnings limits the amount that can be reinvested in the business. This may indicate a commitment to paying a dividend, or a dearth of investment opportunities.
Another important check we do is to see if the free cash flow generated is sufficient to pay the dividend. Last year, Avangrid paid a dividend while reporting negative free cash flow. While there may be an explanation, we think this behaviour is generally not sustainable.
Is Avangrid's Balance Sheet Risky?
As Avangrid has a meaningful amount of debt, we need to check its balance sheet to see if the company might have debt risks. A quick check of its financial situation can be done with two ratios: net debt divided by EBITDA (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation), and 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). Avangrid is carrying net debt of 4.33 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.
Net interest cover can be calculated by dividing earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) by the company's net interest expense. With EBIT of 3.14 times its interest expense, Avangrid's interest cover is starting to look a bit thin.
Consider getting our latest analysis on Avangrid's financial position here.
From the perspective of an income investor who wants to earn dividends for many years, there is not much point buying a stock if its dividend is regularly cut or is not reliable. Looking at the data, we can see that Avangrid has been paying a dividend for the past four years. The dividend has not fluctuated much, but with a relatively short payment history, we can't be sure this is sustainable across a full market cycle. During the past four-year period, the first annual payment was US$1.73 in 2016, compared to US$1.76 last year. Its dividends have grown at less than 1% per annum over this time frame.
We like that the dividend hasn't been shrinking. However we're conscious that the company hasn't got an overly long track record of dividend payments yet, which makes us wary of relying on its dividend income.
Dividend Growth Potential
While dividend payments have been relatively reliable, it would also be nice if earnings per share (EPS) were growing, as this is essential to maintaining the dividend's purchasing power over the long term. Avangrid has grown its earnings per share at 6.8% per annum over the past five years. EPS have been growing at a reasonable rate, although with most of the profits being paid out to shareholders, we question if the company will be able to keep growing its dividends in the future.
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. Avangrid 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. Second, earnings growth has been ordinary, and its history of dividend payments is shorter than we'd like. Overall, Avangrid falls short in several key areas here. Unless the investor has strong grounds for an alternative conclusion, we find it hard to get interested in a dividend stock with these characteristics.
Investors generally tend to favour companies with a consistent, stable dividend policy as opposed to those operating an irregular one. Still, investors need to consider a host of other factors, apart from dividend payments, when analysing a company. Just as an example, we've come accross 3 warning signs for Avangrid you should be aware of, and 1 of them is a bit unpleasant.
Looking for more high-yielding dividend ideas? Try our curated list of dividend stocks with a yield above 3%.
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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. We aim to bring you long-term focused analysis driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis may not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements or qualitative material. Simply Wall St has no position in any stocks mentioned. Thank you for reading.