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Three Things You Should Check Before Buying High Liner Foods Incorporated (TSE:HLF) For Its Dividend

Simply Wall St

Dividend paying stocks like High Liner Foods Incorporated (TSE:HLF) 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.

A 2.4% yield is nothing to get excited about, but investors probably think the long payment history suggests High Liner Foods has some staying power. Some simple research can reduce the risk of buying High Liner Foods for its dividend - read on to learn more.

Click the interactive chart for our full dividend analysis

TSX:HLF Historical Dividend Yield, January 24th 2020

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. In the last year, High Liner Foods paid out 74% of its profit as dividends. A payout ratio above 50% generally implies a business is reaching maturity, although it is still possible to reinvest in the business or increase the dividend over time.

Another important check we do is to see if the free cash flow generated is sufficient to pay the dividend. High Liner Foods's cash payout ratio last year was 13%, which is quite low and suggests that the dividend was thoroughly covered by cash flow. It's positive to see that High Liner Foods'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.

Is High Liner Foods's Balance Sheet Risky?

As High Liner Foods 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). High Liner Foods is carrying net debt of 4.96 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.

Net interest cover can be calculated by dividing earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) by the company's net interest expense. With EBIT of 1.95 times its interest expense, High Liner Foods's interest cover is starting to look a bit thin.

Consider getting our latest analysis on High Liner Foods'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. High Liner Foods has been paying dividends for a long time, but for the purpose of this analysis, we only examine the past 10 years of payments. Its dividend payments have declined on at least one occasion over the past ten years. During the past ten-year period, the first annual payment was US$0.097 in 2010, compared to US$0.15 last year. This works out to be a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of approximately 4.4% a year over that time. The growth in dividends has not been linear, but the CAGR is a decent approximation of the rate of change over this time frame.

Modest growth in the dividend is good to see, but we think this is offset by historical cuts to the payments. It is hard to live on a dividend income if the company's earnings are not consistent.

Dividend Growth Potential

With a relatively unstable dividend, it's even more important to see if earnings per share (EPS) are growing. Why take the risk of a dividend getting cut, unless there's a good chance of bigger dividends in future? Over the past five years, it looks as though High Liner Foods's EPS have declined at around 19% a year. A sharp decline in earnings per share is not great from from a dividend perspective, as even conservative payout ratios can come under pressure if earnings fall far enough.

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. First, we think High Liner Foods has an acceptable payout ratio and its dividend is well covered by cashflow. Second, earnings per share have been in decline, and its dividend has been cut at least once in the past. Ultimately, High Liner Foods 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.

Given that earnings are not growing, the dividend does not look nearly so attractive. Very few businesses see earnings consistently shrink year after year in perpetuity though, and so it might be worth seeing what the 4 analysts we track are forecasting for the future.

If you are a dividend investor, you might also want to look at our curated list of dividend stocks yielding above 3%.

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.

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. Thank you for reading.