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Investors In Sabra Health Care REIT, Inc. (NASDAQ:SBRA) Should Consider This, First

Simply Wall St

Is Sabra Health Care REIT, Inc. (NASDAQ:SBRA) a good dividend stock? How can we tell? Dividend paying companies with growing earnings can be highly rewarding in the long term. Yet sometimes, investors buy a popular dividend stock because of its yield, and then lose money if the company's dividend doesn't live up to expectations.

With a goodly-sized dividend yield despite a relatively short payment history, investors might be wondering if Sabra Health Care REIT is a new dividend aristocrat in the making. We'd agree the yield does look enticing. When buying stocks for their dividends, you should always run through the checks below, to see if the dividend looks sustainable.

Click the interactive chart for our full dividend analysis

NasdaqGS:SBRA Historical Dividend Yield, October 9th 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. So we need to form a view on if a company's dividend is sustainable, relative to its net profit after tax. In the last year, Sabra Health Care REIT paid out 91% of its profit as dividends. It's paying out most of its earnings, which limits the amount that can be reinvested in the business. This may indicate limited need for further capital within the business, or highlight a commitment to paying a dividend.

In addition to comparing dividends against profits, we should inspect whether the company generated enough cash to pay its dividend. Sabra Health Care REIT paid out 95% of its cash flow last year. This may be sustainable but it does not leave much of a buffer for unexpected circumstances. 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.

REITs like Sabra Health Care REIT often have different rules governing their distributions, so a higher payout ratio on its own is not unusual.

Is Sabra Health Care REIT's Balance Sheet Risky?

As Sabra Health Care REIT 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. Essentially we check that a) the company does not have too much debt, and b) that it can afford to pay the interest. Sabra Health Care REIT has net debt of 5.85 times its EBITDA, which implies meaningful risk if interest rates rise of earnings decline.

Net interest cover can be calculated by dividing earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) by the company's net interest expense. With EBIT of 1.71 times its interest expense, Sabra Health Care REIT's interest cover is starting to look a bit thin. Low interest cover and high debt can create problems right when the investor least needs them, and we're reluctant to rely on the dividend of companies with these traits. That said, Sabra Health Care REIT is in the real estate business, which is typically able to sustain much higher levels of debt, relative to other industries.

Consider getting our latest analysis on Sabra Health Care REIT'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. Looking at the last decade of data, we can see that Sabra Health Care REIT paid its first dividend at least eight years ago. The company has been paying a stable dividend for a while now, which is great. However we'd prefer to see consistency for a few more years before giving it our full seal of approval. During the past eight-year period, the first annual payment was US$1.28 in 2011, compared to US$1.80 last year. This works out to be a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of approximately 4.4% a year over that time.

Modest dividend growth is good to see, especially with the payments being relatively stable. However, the payment history is relatively short and we wouldn't want to rely on this dividend too much.

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. Sabra Health Care REIT's earnings per share have shrunk at 29% a year over the past five years. A sharp decline in earnings per share is not great from from a dividend perspective, as even conservative payout ratios can come under pressure if earnings fall far enough.

We'd also point out that Sabra Health Care REIT issued a meaningful number of new shares in the past year. Trying to grow the dividend when issuing new shares reminds us of the ancient Greek tale of Sisyphus - perpetually pushing a boulder uphill. Companies that consistently issue new shares are often suboptimal from a dividend perspective.

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 think Sabra Health Care REIT is paying out an acceptable percentage of its cashflow and profit. Second, earnings per share have been in decline, and the dividend history is shorter than we'd like. In summary, Sabra Health Care REIT has a number of shortcomings that we'd find it hard to get past. Things could change, but we think there are likely more attractive alternatives out there.

Given that earnings are not growing, the dividend does not look nearly so attractive. See if the 4 analysts are forecasting a turnaround in our free collection of analyst estimates here.

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.