Dividend paying stocks like Symphony Limited (NSE:SYMPHONY) 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.
While Symphony's 0.4% dividend yield is not the highest, we think its lengthy payment history is quite interesting. Some simple analysis can offer a lot of insights when buying a company for its dividend, and we'll go through this below.
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. In the last year, Symphony paid out 30% of its profit as dividends. This is a middling range that strikes a nice balance between paying dividends to shareholders, and retaining enough earnings to invest in future growth. One of the risks is that management reinvests the retained capital poorly instead of paying a higher dividend.
Another important check we do is to see if the free cash flow generated is sufficient to pay the dividend. Symphony's cash payout ratio last year was 24%, which is quite low and suggests that the dividend was thoroughly covered by cash flow. It's positive to see that Symphony's dividend is covered by both profits and cash flow, since this is generally a sign that the dividend is sustainable, and a lower payout ratio usually suggests a greater margin of safety before the dividend gets cut.
Consider getting our latest analysis on Symphony'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. Symphony has been paying dividends for a long time, but for the purpose of this analysis, we only examine the past 10 years of payments. The dividend has been cut by more than 20% on at least one occasion historically. During the past ten-year period, the first annual payment was ₹0.10 in 2009, compared to ₹4.50 last year. Dividends per share have grown at approximately 46% per year over this time. The growth in dividends has not been linear, but the CAGR is a decent approximation of the rate of change over this time frame.
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 evaluate if earnings per share (EPS) are growing - it's not worth taking the risk on a dividend getting cut, unless you might be rewarded with larger dividends in future. Symphony's earnings per share have been essentially 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.
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. Firstly, we like that Symphony has low and conservative payout ratios. Unfortunately, the company has not been able to generate earnings per share growth, and cut its dividend at least once in the past. While we're not hugely bearish on it, overall we think there are potentially better dividend stocks than Symphony out there.
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 6 analysts are forecasting a turnaround in our free collection of analyst estimates here.
Looking for more high-yielding dividend ideas? Try our curated list of dividend stocks with a yield above 3%.
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If you spot an error that warrants correction, please contact the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.