Readers hoping to buy ESR-REIT (SGX:J91U) for its dividend will need to make their move shortly, as the stock is about to trade ex-dividend. Investors can purchase shares before the 30th of July in order to be eligible for this dividend, which will be paid on the 30th of August.
ESR-REIT's next dividend payment will be S$0.00059 per share, on the back of last year when the company paid a total of S$0.039 to shareholders. Based on the last year's worth of payments, ESR-REIT has a trailing yield of 7.3% on the current stock price of SGD0.525. Dividends are an important source of income to many shareholders, but the health of the business is crucial to maintaining those dividends. As a result, readers should always check whether ESR-REIT has been able to grow its dividends, or if the dividend might be cut.
Dividends are typically paid out of company income, so if a company pays out more than it earned, its dividend is usually at a higher risk of being cut. It paid out 80% of its earnings as dividends last year, which is not unreasonable, but limits reinvestment in the business and leaves the dividend vulnerable to a business downturn. We'd be concerned if earnings began to decline. That said, REITs are often required by law to distribute all of their earnings, and it's not unusual to see a REIT with a payout ratio around 100%. We wouldn't read too much into this. Given that the company reported a loss last year, we now need to see if it generated enough free cash flow to fund the dividend. If ESR-REIT didn't generate enough cash to pay the dividend, then it must have either paid from cash in the bank or by borrowing money, neither of which is sustainable in the long term. It paid out 80% of its free cash flow as dividends, which is within usual limits but will limit the company's ability to lift the dividend if there's no growth.
Have Earnings And Dividends Been Growing?
Companies with falling earnings are riskier for dividend shareholders. If earnings fall far enough, the company could be forced to cut its dividend. ESR-REIT reported a loss last year, and the general trend suggests its earnings have also been declining in recent years, making us wonder if the dividend is at risk.
We'd also point out that ESR-REIT issued a meaningful number of new shares in the past year. Trying to grow the dividend while issuing large amounts of new shares reminds us of the ancient Greek tale of Sisyphus - perpetually pushing a boulder uphill.
Another key way to measure a company's dividend prospects is by measuring its historical rate of dividend growth. ESR-REIT's dividend payments per share have declined at 4.8% per year on average over the past 10 years, which is uninspiring. While it's not great that earnings and dividends per share have fallen in recent years, we're encouraged by the fact that management has trimmed the dividend rather than risk over-committing the company in a risky attempt to maintain yields to shareholders.
Remember, you can always get a snapshot of ESR-REIT's financial health, by checking our visualisation of its financial health, here.
The Bottom Line
From a dividend perspective, should investors buy or avoid ESR-REIT? First, it's not great to see the company paying a dividend despite being loss-making over the last year. On the plus side, the dividend was covered by free cash flow. It's not the most attractive proposition from a dividend perspective, and we'd probably give this one a miss for now.
Curious what other investors think of ESR-REIT? See what analysts are forecasting, with this visualisation of its historical and future estimated earnings and cash flow .
If you're in the market for dividend stocks, we recommend checking our list of top dividend stocks with a greater than 2% yield and an upcoming dividend.
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