Today we'll take a closer look at Six Flags Entertainment Corporation (NYSE:SIX) 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.
In this case, Six Flags Entertainment likely looks attractive to dividend investors, given its 6.5% dividend yield and nine-year payment history. It sure looks interesting on these metrics - but there's always more to the story . 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.
Dividends are usually paid out of company earnings. If a company is paying more than it earns, 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. Looking at the data, we can see that 99% of Six Flags Entertainment's profits were paid out as dividends in the last 12 months. With a payout ratio this high, we'd say its dividend is not well covered by earnings. This may be fine if earnings are growing, but it might not take much of a downturn for the dividend to come under pressure.
We also measure dividends paid against a company's levered free cash flow, to see if enough cash was generated to cover the dividend. Six Flags Entertainment paid out 104% of its free cash last year. Cash flows can be lumpy, but this dividend was not well covered by cash flow. As Six Flags Entertainment's dividend was not well covered by either earnings or cash flow, we would be concerned that this dividend could be at risk over the long term.
Is Six Flags Entertainment's Balance Sheet Risky?
As Six Flags Entertainment'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 is a measure of a company's total debt. Net interest cover measures the ability to meet interest payments. Essentially we check that a) the company does not have too much debt, and b) that it can afford to pay the interest. Six Flags Entertainment is carrying net debt of 3.33 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. With EBIT of 4.77 times its interest expense, Six Flags Entertainment's interest cover is starting to look a bit thin.
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. Looking at the last decade of data, we can see that Six Flags Entertainment paid its first dividend at least nine years ago. Although it has been paying a dividend for several years now, the dividend has been cut at least once by more than 20%, and we're cautious about the consistency of its dividend across a full economic cycle. During the past nine-year period, the first annual payment was US$0.24 in 2010, compared to US$3.28 last year. This works out to be a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of approximately 34% a year over that time. Six Flags Entertainment's dividend payments have fluctuated, so it hasn't grown 34% every year, but the CAGR is a useful rule of thumb for approximating the historical growth.
It's not great to see that the payment has been cut in the past. We're generally more wary of companies that have cut their dividend before, as they tend to perform worse in an economic downturn.
Dividend Growth Potential
With a relatively unstable dividend, it's even more important to see if earnings per share (EPS) are growing. Why take the risk of a dividend getting cut, unless there's a good chance of bigger dividends in future? Strong earnings per share (EPS) growth might encourage our interest in the company despite fluctuating dividends, which is why it's great to see Six Flags Entertainment has grown its earnings per share at 22% per annum over the past five years. Earnings per share have been growing very rapidly, although the company is also paying out virtually all of its profit in dividends. While EPS could grow fast enough to make the dividend sustainable, in this type of situation, we'd want to pay extra attention to any fragilities in the company's balance sheet.
When we look at a dividend stock, we need to form a judgement on whether the dividend will grow, if the company is able to maintain it in a wide range of economic circumstances, and if the dividend payout is sustainable. We're a bit uncomfortable with Six Flags Entertainment paying out a high percentage of both its cashflow and earnings. Next, earnings growth has been good, but unfortunately the dividend has been cut at least once in the past. With this information in mind, we think Six Flags Entertainment may not be an ideal dividend stock.
Companies that are growing earnings tend to be the best dividend stocks over the long term. See what the 13 analysts we track are forecasting for Six Flags Entertainment 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%.
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 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. Thank you for reading.