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Read This Before Buying Welltower Inc. (NYSE:WELL) For Its Dividend

Simply Wall St

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Dividend paying stocks like Welltower Inc. (NYSE:WELL) tend to be popular with investors, and for good reason - some research suggests a significant amount of all stock market returns come from reinvested dividends. 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.

In this case, Welltower likely looks attractive to investors, given its 4.3% dividend yield and a payment history of over ten years. It would not be a surprise to discover that many investors buy it for the dividends. Some simple research can reduce the risk of buying Welltower for its dividend - read on to learn more.

Explore this interactive chart for our latest analysis on Welltower!

NYSE:WELL Historical Dividend Yield, May 31st 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. Welltower paid out 97% of its profit as dividends, over the trailing twelve month period. It's paying out most of its earnings, which limits the amount that can be reinvested in the business. This may indicate limited need for further capital within the business, or highlight a commitment to paying a dividend.

We also measure dividends paid against a company's levered free cash flow, to see if enough cash was generated to cover the dividend. Welltower paid out 87% of its cash flow last year. This may be sustainable but it does not leave much of a buffer for unexpected circumstances. It's positive to see that Welltower's dividend is covered by both profits and cash flow, since this is generally a sign that the dividend is sustainable, and a lower payout ratio usually suggests a greater margin of safety before the dividend gets cut.

Is Welltower's Balance Sheet Risky?

As Welltower has a meaningful amount of debt, we need to check its balance sheet to see if the company might have debt risks. 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. Welltower has net debt of 6.01 times its earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) which implies meaningful risk if interest rates rise of earnings decline.

Net interest cover can be calculated by dividing earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) by the company's net interest expense. With EBIT of 2.35 times its interest expense, Welltower's interest cover is starting to look a bit thin. Low interest cover and high debt can create problems right when the investor least needs them. We're generally reluctant to rely on the dividend of companies with these traits.

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

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. For the purpose of this article, we only scrutinise the last decade of Welltower's dividend payments. During this period the dividend has been stable, which could imply the business could have relatively consistent earnings power. During the past ten-year period, the first annual payment was US$2.72 in 2009, compared to US$3.48 last year. This works out to be a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of approximately 2.5% a year over that time.

Slow and steady dividend growth might not sound that exciting, but dividends have been stable for ten years, which we think is seriously impressive.

Dividend Growth Potential

Dividend payments have been consistent over the past few years, but we should always check if earnings per share (EPS) are growing, as this will help maintain the purchasing power of the dividend. It's good to see Welltower has been growing its earnings per share at 75% a year over the past 5 years. The company pays out most of its earnings as dividends, although with such rapid EPS growth, its possible the dividend is better covered than it looks. Still, we'd be cautious about extrapolating high growth too far out into the future.

We'd also point out that Welltower issued a meaningful number of new shares in the past year. Regularly issuing new shares can be detrimental - it's hard to grow dividends per share when new shares are regularly being created.

Conclusion

To summarise, shareholders should always check that Welltower's dividends are affordable, that its dividend payments are relatively stable, and that it has decent prospects for growing its earnings and dividend. Welltower's is paying out more than half its income as dividends, but at least the dividend is covered by both reported earnings and cashflow. Next, growing earnings per share and steady dividend payments is a great combination. Overall we think Welltower is an interesting dividend stock, although it could be better.

Companies that are growing earnings tend to be the best dividend stocks over the long term. See what the 6 analysts we track are forecasting for Welltower for free with public analyst estimates for the company.

Looking for more high-yielding dividend ideas? Try our curated list of dividend stocks with a yield above 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.