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Know This Before Buying Highland Gold Mining Limited (LON:HGM) For Its Dividend

Simply Wall St

Is Highland Gold Mining Limited (LON:HGM) 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 stock for its dividend and lose money because the share price falls by more than they earned in dividend payments.

With a goodly-sized dividend yield despite a relatively short payment history, investors might be wondering if Highland Gold Mining is a new dividend aristocrat in the making. It sure looks interesting on these metrics - but there's always more to the story . That said, the recent jump in the share price will make Highland Gold Mining's dividend yield look smaller, even though the company prospects could be improving. Some simple analysis can offer a lot of insights when buying a company for its dividend, and we'll go through this below.

Explore this interactive chart for our latest analysis on Highland Gold Mining!

AIM:HGM Historical Dividend Yield, July 23rd 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, Highland Gold Mining paid out 111% of its profit as dividends. Unless there are extenuating circumstances, from the perspective of an investor who hopes to own the company for many years, a payout ratio of above 100% is definitely a concern.

In addition to comparing dividends against profits, we should inspect whether the company generated enough cash to pay its dividend. Highland Gold Mining paid out 76% of its cash flow last year. This may be sustainable but it does not leave much of a buffer for unexpected circumstances. It's good to see that while Highland Gold Mining's dividends were not covered by profits, at least they are affordable from a cash perspective. Still, if the company repeatedly paid a dividend greater than its profits, we'd be concerned. Very few companies are able to sustainably pay dividends larger than their reported earnings.

Is Highland Gold Mining's Balance Sheet Risky?

As Highland Gold Mining'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 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. Highland Gold Mining has net debt of 1.39 times its EBITDA, which is generally an okay level of debt for most companies.

We calculated its interest cover by measuring its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT), and dividing this by the company's net interest expense. With EBIT of 396.31 times its interest expense, Highland Gold Mining's interest cover is quite strong - more than enough to cover the interest expense.

Remember, you can always get a snapshot of Highland Gold Mining'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. Looking at the last decade of data, we can see that Highland Gold Mining paid its first dividend at least eight years ago. It's good to see that Highland Gold Mining has been paying a dividend for a number of years. However, the dividend has been cut at least once in the past, and we're concerned that what has been cut once, could be cut again. During the past eight-year period, the first annual payment was US$0.05 in 2011, compared to US$0.17 last year. This works out to be a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of approximately 16% a year over that time. Highland Gold Mining's dividend payments have fluctuated, so it hasn't grown 16% every year, but the CAGR is a useful rule of thumb for approximating the historical growth.

Highland Gold Mining has grown distributions at a rapid rate despite cutting the dividend at least once in the past. Companies that cut once often cut again, but it might be worth considering if the business has turned a corner.

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? Highland Gold Mining's EPS are effectively flat over the past five years. Flat earnings per share are acceptable for a time, but over the long term, the purchasing power of the company's dividends could be eroded by inflation.

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 a bit uncomfortable with its high payout ratio, although at least the dividend was covered by free cash flow. Earnings per share have been falling, and the company has cut its dividend at least once in the past. From a dividend perspective, this is a cause for concern. There are a few too many issues for us to get comfortable with Highland Gold Mining from a dividend perspective. Businesses can change, but we would struggle to identify why an investor should rely on this stock for their income.

Without at least some growth in earnings per share over time, the dividend will eventually come under pressure either from costs or inflation. See if the 3 analysts are forecasting a turnaround in our free collection of analyst estimates here.

If you are a dividend investor, you might also want to look at our curated list of dividend stocks yielding above 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.