Today we'll take a closer look at Benchmark Electronics, Inc. (NYSE:BHE) 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.
With only a two-year payment history, and a 1.7% yield, investors probably think Benchmark Electronics is not much of a dividend stock. A low dividend might not be a bad thing, if the company is reinvesting heavily and growing its sales and profits. During the year, the company also conducted a buyback equivalent to around 16% of its market capitalisation. That said, the recent jump in the share price will make Benchmark Electronics's dividend yield look smaller, even though the company prospects could be improving. Some simple research can reduce the risk of buying Benchmark Electronics for its dividend - read on to learn more.
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. Comparing dividend payments to a company's net profit after tax is a simple way of reality-checking whether a dividend is sustainable. In the last year, Benchmark Electronics paid out 41% of its profit as dividends. This is a medium payout level that leaves enough capital in the business to fund opportunities that might arise, while also rewarding shareholders. Plus, there is room to increase the payout ratio over time.
In addition to comparing dividends against profits, we should inspect whether the company generated enough cash to pay its dividend. Benchmark Electronics's cash payout ratio last year was 22%. Cash flows are typically lumpy, but this looks like an appropriately conservative payout. It's positive to see that Benchmark Electronics'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.
With a strong net cash balance, Benchmark Electronics investors may not have much to worry about in the near term from a dividend perspective.
We update our data on Benchmark Electronics every 24 hours, so you can always get our latest analysis of its financial health, 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 company has been paying a stable dividend for a few years now, but we'd like to see more evidence of consistency over a longer period. Its most recent annual dividend was US$0.60 per share, effectively flat on its first payment two years ago.
We like that the dividend hasn't been shrinking. However we're conscious that the company hasn't got an overly long track record of dividend payments yet, which makes us wary of relying on its dividend income.
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. Over the past five years, it looks as though Benchmark Electronics's EPS have declined at around 6.6% a year. If earnings continue to decline, the dividend may come under pressure. Every investor should make an assessment of whether the company is taking steps to stabilise the situation.
To summarise, shareholders should always check that Benchmark Electronics's dividends are affordable, that its dividend payments are relatively stable, and that it has decent prospects for growing its earnings and dividend. First, we like that the company's dividend payments appear well covered, although the retained capital also needs to be effectively reinvested. Earnings per share have been falling, and the company has a relatively short dividend history - shorter than we like, anyway. In sum, we find it hard to get excited about Benchmark Electronics from a dividend perspective. It's not that we think it's a bad business; just that there are other companies that perform better on these criteria.
Without at least some growth in earnings per share over time, the dividend will eventually come under pressure either from costs or inflation. Businesses can change though, and we think it would make sense to see what analysts are forecasting for the company.
We have also put together a list of global stocks with a market capitalisation above $1bn and yielding more 3%.
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