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Looking For Steady Income For Your Dividend Portfolio? Is Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F) A Good Fit?

Simply Wall St

Is Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F) 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, Ford Motor likely looks attractive to dividend investors, given its 6.8% dividend yield and eight-year payment history. It sure looks interesting on these metrics - but there's always more to the story . The company also bought back stock during the year, equivalent to approximately 0.7% of the company's market capitalisation at the time. Some simple analysis can reduce the risk of holding Ford Motor for its dividend, and we'll focus on the most important aspects below.

Click the interactive chart for our full dividend analysis

NYSE:F Historical Dividend Yield, February 2nd 2020

Payout ratios

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. Ford Motor paid out 149% of its profit as dividends, over the trailing twelve month period. A payout ratio above 100% is definitely an item of concern, unless there are some other circumstances that would justify it.

In addition to comparing dividends against profits, we should inspect whether the company generated enough cash to pay its dividend. Ford Motor paid out a conservative 31% of its free cash flow as dividends last year. It's good to see that while Ford Motor'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 Ford Motor's Balance Sheet Risky?

As Ford Motor'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 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). Ford Motor has net debt of 11.32 times its EBITDA, which we think carries substantial risk if earnings aren't sustainable.

We calculated its interest cover by measuring its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT), and dividing this by the company's net interest expense. Ford Motor has EBIT of 6.62 times its interest expense, which we think is adequate. Despite a decent level of interest cover, shareholders should remain cautious about the high level of net debt. Rising rates or tighter debt markets have a nasty habit of making fools of highly-indebted dividend stocks.

Remember, you can always get a snapshot of Ford Motor's latest financial position, by checking our visualisation of its financial health.

Dividend Volatility

Before buying a stock for its income, we want to see if the dividends have been stable in the past, and if the company has a track record of maintaining its dividend. The first recorded dividend for Ford Motor, in the last decade, was eight years ago. Although it has been paying a dividend for several years now, the dividend has been cut at least once, and we're cautious about the consistency of its dividend across a full economic cycle. During the past eight-year period, the first annual payment was US$0.20 in 2012, compared to US$0.60 last year. Dividends per share have grown at approximately 15% 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.

So, its dividends have grown at a rapid rate over this time, but payments have been cut in the past. The stock may still be worth considering as part of a diversified dividend portfolio.

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. Over the past five years, it looks as though Ford Motor's EPS have declined at around 33% a year. With this kind of significant decline, we always wonder what has changed in the business. Dividends are about stability, and Ford Motor's earnings per share, which support the dividend, have been anything but stable.

Conclusion

To summarise, shareholders should always check that Ford Motor's dividends are affordable, that its dividend payments are relatively stable, and that it has decent prospects for growing its earnings and dividend. We're a bit uncomfortable with its high payout ratio, although at least the dividend was covered by free cash flow. Second, earnings per share have been in decline, and its dividend has been cut at least once in the past. In summary, Ford Motor has a number of shortcomings that we'd find it hard to get past. Things could change, but we think there are a number of better ideas out there.

Given that earnings are not growing, the dividend does not look nearly so attractive. Businesses can change though, and we think it would make sense to see what analysts are forecasting for the company.

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