Today we'll take a closer look at ONE Gas, Inc. (NYSE:OGS) 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. 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.
Investors might not know much about ONE Gas's dividend prospects, even though it has been paying dividends for the last six years and offers a 2.3% yield. A low yield is generally a turn-off, but if the prospects for earnings growth were strong, investors might be pleasantly surprised by the long-term results. Some simple research can reduce the risk of buying ONE Gas for its dividend - read on to learn more.
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. ONE Gas paid out 57% of its profit as dividends, over the trailing twelve month period. This is a healthy payout ratio, and while it does limit the amount of earnings that can be reinvested in the business, there is also some room to lift the payout ratio over time.
Another important check we do is to see if the free cash flow generated is sufficient to pay the dividend. Unfortunately, while ONE Gas pays a dividend, it also reported negative free cash flow last year. While there may be a good reason for this, it's not ideal from a dividend perspective.
Is ONE Gas's Balance Sheet Risky?
As ONE Gas has a meaningful amount of debt, we need to check its balance sheet to see if the company might have debt risks. A rough way to check this is with these two simple ratios: a) net debt divided by EBITDA (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation), and b) 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). ONE Gas is carrying net debt of 3.61 times its EBITDA, which is getting towards the upper limit of our comfort range on a dividend stock that the investor hopes will endure a wide range of economic circumstances.
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 4.67 times its interest expense is starting to become a concern for ONE Gas, and be aware that lenders may place additional restrictions on the company as well.
We update our data on ONE Gas every 24 hours, so you can always get our latest analysis of its financial health, here.
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 ONE Gas has been paying a dividend for the past six years. Its dividend has not fluctuated much that time, which we like, but we're conscious that the company might not yet have a track record of maintaining dividends in all economic conditions. During the past six-year period, the first annual payment was US$1.12 in 2013, compared to US$2.00 last year. This works out to be a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of approximately 10% a year over that time.
The dividend has been growing pretty quickly, which could be enough to get us interested even though the dividend history is relatively short. Further research may be warranted.
Dividend Growth Potential
While dividend payments have been relatively reliable, it would also be nice if earnings per share (EPS) were growing, as this is essential to maintaining the dividend's purchasing power over the long term. Strong earnings per share (EPS) growth might encourage our interest in the company despite fluctuating dividends, which is why it's great to see ONE Gas has grown its earnings per share at 12% per annum over the past five years. ONE Gas's earnings per share have grown rapidly in recent years, although more than half of its profits are being paid out as dividends, which makes us wonder if the company has a limited number of reinvestment opportunities in its business.
To summarise, shareholders should always check that ONE Gas's dividends are affordable, that its dividend payments are relatively stable, and that it has decent prospects for growing its earnings and dividend. First, the company has a payout ratio that was within an average range for most dividend stocks, but it paid out virtually all of its generated cash flow. We were also glad to see it growing earnings, although its dividend history is not as long as we'd like. In sum, we find it hard to get excited about ONE Gas from a dividend perspective. It's not that we think it's a bad business; just that there are other companies that perform better on these criteria.
Companies that are growing earnings tend to be the best dividend stocks over the long term. See what the 4 analysts we track are forecasting for ONE Gas for free with public analyst estimates 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.
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