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Know This Before Buying Thomson Reuters Corporation (TSE:TRI) For Its Dividend

Simply Wall St

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Is Thomson Reuters Corporation (TSE:TRI) 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.

A slim 2.1% yield is hard to get excited about, but the long payment history is respectable. At the right price, or with strong growth opportunities, Thomson Reuters could have potential. The company also bought back stock equivalent to around 23% of market capitalisation this year. There are a few simple ways to reduce the risks of buying Thomson Reuters for its dividend, and we'll go through these below.

Explore this interactive chart for our latest analysis on Thomson Reuters!

TSX:TRI Historical Dividend Yield, July 15th 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. 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, Thomson Reuters paid out 1250% of its profit as dividends. A payout ratio above 100% is definitely an item of concern, unless there are some other circumstances that would justify it.

Another important check we do is to see if the free cash flow generated is sufficient to pay the dividend. The company paid out 78% of its free cash flow as dividends last year, which is adequate, but reduces the wriggle room in the event of a downturn. It's good to see that while Thomson Reuters'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. Extraordinarily few companies are capable of persistently paying a dividend that is greater than their profits.

Is Thomson Reuters's Balance Sheet Risky?

As Thomson Reuters's dividend was not well covered by earnings, we need to check its balance sheet for signs of financial distress. 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. Thomson Reuters has net debt of 0.95 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. Interest cover of 3.27 times its interest expense is starting to become a concern for Thomson Reuters, and be aware that lenders may place additional restrictions on the company as well.

We update our data on Thomson Reuters 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. Thomson Reuters 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 US$1.19 in 2009, compared to US$1.44 last year. Dividends per share have grown at approximately 1.9% per year over this time. Thomson Reuters's dividend payments have fluctuated, so it hasn't grown 1.9% every year, but the CAGR is a useful rule of thumb for approximating the historical growth.

It's good to see some dividend growth, but the dividend has been cut at least once, and the size of the cut would eliminate most of the growth, anyway. We're not that enthused by this.

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. Over the past five years, it looks as though Thomson Reuters's EPS have declined at around 7.9% a year. Declining earnings per share over a number of years is not a great sign for the dividend investor. Without some improvement, this does not bode well for the long term value of a company's dividend.

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 not keen on the fact that Thomson Reuters paid out such a high percentage of its income, although its cashflow is in better shape. Second, earnings per share have been in decline, and its dividend has been cut at least once in the past. There are a few too many issues for us to get comfortable with Thomson Reuters from a dividend perspective. Businesses can change, but we would struggle to identify why an investor should rely on this stock for their income.

Given that earnings are not growing, the dividend does not look nearly so attractive. See if the 16 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.