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Something To Consider Before Buying Atlas Arteria Limited (ASX:ALX) For The 3.8% Dividend

Simply Wall St

Could Atlas Arteria Limited (ASX:ALX) be an attractive dividend share to own for the long haul? Investors are often drawn to strong companies with the idea of reinvesting the dividends. 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.

In this case, Atlas Arteria likely looks attractive to dividend investors, given its 3.8% dividend yield and six-year payment history. It sure looks interesting on these metrics - but there's always more to the story . When buying stocks for their dividends, you should always run through the checks below, to see if the dividend looks sustainable.

Explore this interactive chart for our latest analysis on Atlas Arteria!

ASX:ALX Historical Dividend Yield, July 23rd 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 form a view on if a company's dividend is sustainable, relative to its net profit after tax. Looking at the data, we can see that 212% of Atlas Arteria's profits were paid out as dividends in the last 12 months. 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. Atlas Arteria paid out 386% of its free cash flow last year, which we think is concerning if cash flows do not improve. Paying out such a high percentage of cash flow suggests that the dividend was funded from either cash at bank or by borrowing, neither of which is desirable over the long term. Cash is slightly more important than profit from a dividend perspective, but given Atlas Arteria's payments were not well covered by either earnings or cash flow, we are concerned about the sustainability of this dividend.

Consider getting our latest analysis on Atlas Arteria's financial position here.

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. Atlas Arteria 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 AU$0.048 in 2013, compared to AU$0.30 last year. This works out to be a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of approximately 36% a year over that time.

Atlas Arteria has been growing its dividend quite rapidly, which is exciting. However, the short payment history makes us question whether this performance will persist across a full market cycle.

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. Earnings have grown at around 5.4% a year for the past five years, which is better than seeing them shrink! Although per-share earnings are growing at a credible rate, virtually all of the income is being paid out as dividends to shareholders. This is okay, but may limit growth in the company's future dividend payments.

We'd also point out that Atlas Arteria 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

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. Atlas Arteria paid out almost all of its cash flow and profit as dividends, leaving little to reinvest in the business. Second, earnings growth has been ordinary, and its history of dividend payments is shorter than we'd like. Using these criteria, Atlas Arteria looks quite suboptimal from a dividend investment perspective.

Earnings growth generally bodes well for the future value of company dividend payments. See if the 4 Atlas Arteria analysts we track are forecasting continued growth with our free report on analyst estimates for the company.

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.