Dividend paying stocks like Ascencio SCA (EBR:ASC) 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. If you are hoping to live on your dividends, it's important to be more stringent with your investments than the average punter. Regular readers know we like to apply the same approach to each dividend stock, and we hope you'll find our analysis useful.
In this case, Ascencio likely looks attractive to dividend investors, given its 6.0% 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.
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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 be form a view on if a company's dividend is sustainable, relative to its net profit after tax. Ascencio paid out 51% of its profit as dividends, over the trailing twelve month period. This is a fairly normal payout ratio among most businesses. It allows a higher dividend to be paid to shareholders, but does limit the capital retained in the business - which could be good or bad.
Another important check we do is to see if the free cash flow generated is sufficient to pay the dividend. The company paid out 51% of its free cash flow, which is not bad per se, but does start to limit the amount of cash Ascencio has available to meet other needs.
Ascencio is a REIT, which is an investment structure that often has different payout rules compared to other companies. It is not uncommon for REITs to pay out 100% of their earnings each year.
Is Ascencio's Balance Sheet Risky?
As Ascencio 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 a company's total debt load relative to its earnings (lower = less debt), while net interest cover measures the company's ability to pay the interest on its debt (higher = greater ability to pay interest costs). Ascencio has net debt of 6.79 times its earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) which implies meaningful risk if interest rates rise of earnings decline.
We calculated its interest cover by measuring its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT), and dividing this by the company's net interest expense. Net interest cover of 6.17 times its interest expense appears reasonable for Ascencio, although we're conscious that even high interest cover doesn't make a company bulletproof. Adequate interest cover may make this level of debt look safe, relative to companies with a lower interest cover ratio. However with so much net debt, we would be cautious of what could happen if interest rates rise.
Consider getting our latest analysis on Ascencio's financial position here.
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. The first recorded dividend for Ascencio, in the last decade, was nine years ago. The dividend has been quite stable over the past nine years, which is great to see - although we usually like to see the dividend maintained for a decade before giving it full marks, though. During the past nine-year period, the first annual payment was €2.72 in 2010, compared to €3.40 last year. Dividends per share have grown at approximately 2.5% per year over this time.
It's good to see at least some dividend growth. Yet with a relatively short dividend paying history, we wouldn't want to depend on this dividend too heavily.
Dividend Growth Potential
The other half of the dividend investing equation is evaluating whether 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. Ascencio has grown its earnings per share at 3.7% per annum over the past five years. Growth of 3.7% is relatively anaemic growth, which we wonder about. If the company is struggling to grow, perhaps that's why it elects to pay out more than half of its earnings to shareholders.
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. Ascencio's is paying out more than half its income as dividends, but at least the dividend is covered both by reported earnings and cashflow. Unfortunately, earnings growth has also been mediocre, and we think it has not been paying dividends long enough to demonstrate resilience across economic cycles. Ultimately, Ascencio comes up short on our dividend analysis. It's not that we think it is a bad company - just that there are likely more appealing dividend prospects out there on this analysis.
See if management have their own wealth at stake, by checking insider shareholdings in Ascencio stock.
If you are a dividend investor, you might also want to look at our curated list of dividend stocks yielding above 3%.
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If you spot an error that warrants correction, please contact the editor at email@example.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.