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What To Know Before Buying AST Groupe (EPA:ASP) For Its Dividend

Simply Wall St

Is AST Groupe (EPA:ASP) 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.

In this case, AST Groupe likely looks attractive to investors, given its 8.0% dividend yield and a payment history of over ten years. It would not be a surprise to discover that many investors buy it for the dividends. When buying stocks for their dividends, you should always run through the checks below, to see if the dividend looks sustainable.

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ENXTPA:ASP Historical Dividend Yield, December 8th 2019

Payout ratios

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. In the last year, AST Groupe paid out 100% of its profit as dividends. 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.

In addition to comparing dividends against profits, we should inspect whether the company generated enough cash to pay its dividend. Last year, AST Groupe paid a dividend while reporting negative free cash flow. While there may be an explanation, we think this behaviour is generally not sustainable.

Is AST Groupe's Balance Sheet Risky?

As AST Groupe'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). AST Groupe has net debt of 0.16 times its EBITDA, which is generally an okay level of debt for most companies.

Net interest cover can be calculated by dividing earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) by the company's net interest expense. With EBIT of 48.07 times its interest expense, AST Groupe's interest cover is quite strong - more than enough to cover the interest expense.

We update our data on AST Groupe every 24 hours, so you can always get our latest analysis of its financial health, here.

Dividend Volatility

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. For the purpose of this article, we only scrutinise the last decade of AST Groupe'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 €0.091 in 2009, compared to €0.25 last year. This works out to be a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of approximately 11% a year over that time.

It's rare to find a company that has grown its dividends rapidly over ten years and not had any notable cuts, but AST Groupe has done it, which we really like.

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. Strong earnings per share (EPS) growth might encourage our interest in the company despite fluctuating dividends, which is why it's great to see AST Groupe has grown its earnings per share at 53% per annum over the past five years. The company has been growing its EPS at a very rapid rate, while paying out virtually all of its income as dividends. While EPS could grow fast enough to make the dividend sustainable, in this type of situation, we'd want to pay extra attention to any fragilities in the company's balance sheet.

Conclusion

To summarise, shareholders should always check that AST Groupe's dividends are affordable, that its dividend payments are relatively stable, and that it has decent prospects for growing its earnings and dividend. AST Groupe paid out almost all of its cash flow and profit as dividends, leaving little to reinvest in the business. We like that it has been delivering solid improvement in its earnings per share, and relatively consistent dividend payments. In sum, we find it hard to get excited about AST Groupe 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.

Are management backing themselves to deliver performance? Check their shareholdings in AST Groupe in our latest insider ownership analysis.

Looking for more high-yielding dividend ideas? Try our curated list of dividend stocks with a yield 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.