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Is Manchester United plc (NYSE:MANU) A Risky Dividend Stock?

Simply Wall St

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Today we'll take a closer look at Manchester United plc (NYSE:MANU) from a dividend investor's perspective. Owning a strong business and reinvesting the dividends is widely seen as an attractive way of growing your wealth. 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.

With a 0.9% yield and a four-year payment history, investors probably think Manchester United looks like a reliable dividend stock. A 0.9% yield is not inspiring, but the longer payment history has some appeal. Before you buy any stock for its dividend however, you should always remember Warren Buffett's two rules: 1) Don't lose money, and 2) Remember rule #1. We'll run through some checks below to help with this.

Click the interactive chart for our full dividend analysis

NYSE:MANU Historical Dividend Yield, May 14th 2019

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. So we need to be form a view on if a company's dividend is sustainable, relative to its net profit after tax. In the last year, Manchester United paid out 368% 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. Of the free cash flow it generated last year, Manchester United paid out 43% as dividends, suggesting the dividend is affordable.


Is Manchester United's Balance Sheet Risky?

As Manchester United's dividend was not well covered by earnings, we need to check its balance sheet for signs of financial distress. A quick way to check a company's financial situation uses these 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 on debt. Essentially we check that a) a company does not have too much debt, and b) that it can afford to pay the interest. Manchester United has net debt of less than two times its earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortisation (EBITDA), which we think is not too troublesome.

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 2.84 times its interest expense, Manchester United's interest cover is starting to look a bit thin.

We update our data on Manchester United every 24 hours, so you can always get our latest analysis of its financial health, here.

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 data, we can see that Manchester United has been paying a dividend for the past four years. The dividend has not fluctuated much, but with a relatively short payment history, we can't be sure this is sustainable across a full market cycle. During the past four-year period, the first annual payment was UK£0.12 in 2015, compared to UK£0.14 last year. Dividends per share have grown at approximately 4.0% per year over this time.

It's good to see at least some dividend growth. Yet with a relatively short dividend paying history, we wouldn't want to depend on this dividend too heavily.

Dividend Growth Potential

Examining whether the dividend is affordable and stable is important. However, it's also important to assess if earnings per share (EPS) are growing. Over the long term, dividends need to grow at or above the rate of inflation, in order to maintain the recipient's purchasing power. It's not great to see that Manchester United's have fallen at approximately 47% over the past five years. 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

To summarise, shareholders should always check that Manchester United'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 we note cashflow was stronger than income. Earnings per share are down, and to our mind Manchester United has not been paying a dividend long enough to demonstrate its resilience across economic cycles. In summary, Manchester United has a number of shortcomings that we'd find it hard to get past. Things could change, but we think there are likely more attractive alternatives 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 4 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.