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Three Things You Should Check Before Buying CapitaLand Retail China Trust (SGX:AU8U) For Its Dividend

Simply Wall St

Is CapitaLand Retail China Trust (SGX:AU8U) a good dividend stock? How can we tell? Dividend paying companies with growing earnings can be highly rewarding in the long term. 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.

A high yield and a long history of paying dividends is an appealing combination for CapitaLand Retail China Trust. It would not be a surprise to discover that many investors buy it for the dividends. There are a few simple ways to reduce the risks of buying CapitaLand Retail China Trust for its dividend, and we'll go through these below.

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SGX:AU8U Historical Dividend Yield, October 25th 2019

Payout ratios

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. CapitaLand Retail China Trust paid out 44% of its profit as dividends, over the trailing twelve month period. This is a middling range that strikes a nice balance between paying dividends to shareholders, and retaining enough earnings to invest in future growth. 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. CapitaLand Retail China Trust's cash payout ratio in the last year was 44%, which suggests dividends were well covered by cash generated by the business. It's encouraging to see that the dividend is covered by both profit and cash flow. This generally suggests the dividend is sustainable, as long as earnings don't drop precipitously.

CapitaLand Retail China Trust 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 CapitaLand Retail China Trust's Balance Sheet Risky?

As CapitaLand Retail China Trust 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 total debt load relative to company earnings (lower = less debt), while net interest cover measures the ability to pay interest on the debt (higher = greater ability to pay interest costs). CapitaLand Retail China Trust has net debt of 6.32 times its EBITDA, which implies meaningful risk if interest rates rise of earnings decline.

Net interest cover can be calculated by dividing earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) by the company's net interest expense. Net interest cover of 5.96 times its interest expense appears reasonable for CapitaLand Retail China Trust, although we're conscious that even high interest cover doesn't make a company bulletproof. Adequate interest cover may make the debt look safe, relative to companies with a lower interest cover ratio. However with such a large mountain of debt overall, we're cautious of what could happen if interest rates rise. That said, CapitaLand Retail China Trust is in the real estate business, which is typically able to sustain much higher levels of debt, relative to other industries.

We update our data on CapitaLand Retail China Trust every 24 hours, so you can always get our latest analysis of its financial health, here.

Dividend Volatility

Before buying a stock for its income, we want to see if the dividends have been stable in the past, and if the company has a track record of maintaining its dividend. CapitaLand Retail China Trust 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 dividend has been unstable, which we define as having fallen by at least 20% one or more times over this time. During the past ten-year period, the first annual payment was S$0.075 in 2009, compared to S$0.10 last year. This works out to be a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of approximately 3.1% a year over that time. The dividends haven't grown at precisely 3.1% every year, but this is a useful way to average out the historical rate of growth.

It's good to see some dividend growth, but the dividend has been cut at least once, and the size of the cut would eliminate most of the growth, anyway. We're not that enthused by this.

Dividend Growth Potential

Given that the dividend has been cut in the past, we need to check if earnings are growing and if that might lead to stronger dividends in the future. CapitaLand Retail China Trust's earnings per share have been essentially flat over the past five years. Flat earnings per share are acceptable for a time, but over the long term, the purchasing power of the company's dividends could be eroded by inflation.

We'd also point out that CapitaLand Retail China Trust 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.

Conclusion

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. It's great to see that CapitaLand Retail China Trust is paying out a low percentage of its earnings and cash flow. Second, earnings per share have been in decline, and its dividend has been cut at least once in the past. In sum, we find it hard to get excited about CapitaLand Retail China Trust 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.

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.

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.