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What To Know Before Buying TEGNA Inc. (NYSE:TGNA) For Its Dividend

Simply Wall St

Is TEGNA Inc. (NYSE:TGNA) a good dividend stock? How can we tell? Dividend paying companies with growing earnings can be highly rewarding in the long term. On the other hand, investors have been known to buy a stock because of its yield, and then lose money if the company's dividend doesn't live up to expectations.

A slim 1.7% yield is hard to get excited about, but the long payment history is respectable. At the right price, or with strong growth opportunities, TEGNA could have potential. Some simple research can reduce the risk of buying TEGNA for its dividend - read on to learn more.

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NYSE:TGNA Historical Dividend Yield, December 20th 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, TEGNA paid out 17% of its profit as dividends. We like this low payout ratio, because it implies the dividend is well covered and leaves ample opportunity for reinvestment.

Another important check we do is to see if the free cash flow generated is sufficient to pay the dividend. TEGNA's cash payout ratio last year was 18%, which is quite low and suggests that the dividend was thoroughly covered by cash flow. It's positive to see that TEGNA'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.

Is TEGNA's Balance Sheet Risky?

As TEGNA 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 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. With net debt of 5.57 times its EBITDA, TEGNA could be described as a highly leveraged company. While some companies can handle this level of leverage, we'd be concerned about the dividend sustainability if there was any risk of an earnings downturn.

We calculated its interest cover by measuring its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT), and dividing this by the company's net interest expense. Interest cover of 3.38 times its interest expense is starting to become a concern for TEGNA, and be aware that lenders may place additional restrictions on the company as well. 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.

We update our data on TEGNA 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. TEGNA has been paying dividends for a long time, but for the purpose of this analysis, we only examine the past 10 years of payments. Its dividend payments have fallen by 20% or more on at least one occasion over the past ten years. During the past ten-year period, the first annual payment was US$0.16 in 2009, compared to US$0.28 last year. This works out to be a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of approximately 5.8% a year over that time. TEGNA's dividend payments have fluctuated, so it hasn't grown 5.8% every year, but the CAGR is a useful rule of thumb for approximating the historical growth.

It's good to see the dividend growing at a decent rate, but the dividend has been cut at least once in the past. TEGNA might have put its house in order since then, but we remain cautious.

Dividend Growth Potential

Given that the dividend has been cut in the past, we need to check if earnings are growing and if that might lead to stronger dividends in the future. Strong earnings per share (EPS) growth might encourage our interest in the company despite fluctuating dividends, which is why it's great to see TEGNA has grown its earnings per share at 56% per annum over the past five years. Earnings per share have grown rapidly, and the company is retaining a majority of its earnings. We think this is ideal from an investment perspective, if the company is able to reinvest these earnings effectively.

Conclusion

Dividend investors should always want to know if a) a company's dividends are affordable, b) if there is a track record of consistent payments, and c) if the dividend is capable of growing. Firstly, we like that TEGNA has low and conservative payout ratios. We were also glad to see it growing earnings, but it was concerning to see the dividend has been cut at least once in the past. All things considered, TEGNA looks like a strong prospect. At the right valuation, it could be something special.

Earnings growth generally bodes well for the future value of company dividend payments. See if the 10 TEGNA analysts we track are forecasting continued growth with our free report on analyst estimates for the company.

We have also put together a list of global stocks with a market capitalisation above $1bn and yielding more 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.