Today we'll take a closer look at Superior Plus Corp. (TSE:SPB) 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. 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.
A high yield and a long history of paying dividends is an appealing combination for Superior Plus. We'd guess that plenty of investors have purchased it for the income. 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.
Companies (usually) pay dividends out of their earnings. If a company is paying more than it earns, the dividend might have to be cut. So we need to form a view on if a company's dividend is sustainable, relative to its net profit after tax. Superior Plus paid out 320% of its profit as dividends, over the trailing twelve month period. 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.
We also measure dividends paid against a company's levered free cash flow, to see if enough cash was generated to cover the dividend. The company paid out 67% of its free cash flow, which is not bad per se, but does start to limit the amount of cash Superior Plus has available to meet other needs. It's disappointing to see that the dividend was not covered by profits, but cash is more important from a dividend sustainability perspective, and Superior Plus fortunately did generate enough cash to fund its dividend. If executives were to continue paying more in dividends than the company reported in profits, we'd view this as a warning sign. Extraordinarily few companies are capable of persistently paying a dividend that is greater than their profits.
Is Superior Plus's Balance Sheet Risky?
As Superior Plus'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. Superior Plus is carrying net debt of 3.51 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 2.05 times its interest expense is starting to become a concern for Superior Plus, and be aware that lenders may place additional restrictions on the company as well.
Remember, you can always get a snapshot of Superior Plus's latest financial position, by checking our visualisation of its financial health.
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. Superior Plus has been paying dividends for a long time, but for the purpose of this analysis, we only examine the past 10 years of payments. This company's dividend has not fluctuated wildly, but its dividend per share payments have still decreased substantially over this time, which is not ideal. During the past ten-year period, the first annual payment was CA$1.62 in 2009, compared to CA$0.72 last year. This works out to be a decline of approximately 7.8% per year over that time.
When a company's per-share dividend falls we question if this reflects poorly on either external business conditions, or the company's capital allocation decisions. Either way, we find it hard to get excited about a company with a declining dividend.
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. Superior Plus's earnings per share have shrunk at 12% a year over the past five years. With this kind of significant decline, we always wonder what has changed in the business. Dividends are about stability, and Superior Plus's earnings per share, which support the dividend, have been anything but stable.
We'd also point out that Superior Plus issued a meaningful number of new shares in the past year. Trying to grow the dividend when issuing new shares reminds us of the ancient Greek tale of Sisyphus - perpetually pushing a boulder uphill. Companies that consistently issue new shares are often suboptimal from a dividend perspective.
Dividend investors should always want to know if a) a company's dividends are affordable, b) if there is a track record of consistent payments, and c) if the dividend is capable of growing. We're not keen on the fact that Superior Plus paid out such a high percentage of its income, although its cashflow is in better shape. It hasn't demonstrated a strong ability to grow earnings per share, but we like that the dividend payments have been fairly consistent. With this information in mind, we think Superior Plus may not be an ideal dividend stock.
Given that earnings are not growing, the dividend does not look nearly so attractive. See if the 6 analysts are forecasting a turnaround in our free collection of analyst estimates here.
Looking for more high-yielding dividend ideas? Try our curated list of dividend stocks with a yield above 3%.
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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.