Today we'll take a closer look at IRESS Limited (ASX:IRE) 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. Unfortunately, it's common for investors to be enticed in by the seemingly attractive yield, and lose money when the company has to cut its dividend payments.
A high yield and a long history of paying dividends is an appealing combination for IRESS. It would not be a surprise to discover that many investors buy it for the dividends. Some simple analysis can offer a lot of insights when buying a company for its dividend, and we'll go through this below.
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. In the last year, IRESS paid out 126% of its profit as dividends. A payout ratio above 100% is definitely an item of concern, unless there are some other circumstances that would justify it.
In addition to comparing dividends against profits, we should inspect whether the company generated enough cash to pay its dividend. The company paid out 77% of its free cash flow as dividends last year, which is adequate, but reduces the wriggle room in the event of a downturn. It's good to see that while IRESS's dividends were not covered by profits, at least they are affordable from a cash perspective. Still, if the company repeatedly paid a dividend greater than its profits, we'd be concerned. Very few companies are able to sustainably pay dividends larger than their reported earnings.
Is IRESS's Balance Sheet Risky?
As IRESS's dividend was not well covered by earnings, we need to check its balance sheet for signs of financial distress. 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 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. IRESS has net debt of 1.66 times its EBITDA, which is generally an okay level of debt for most companies.
Net interest cover can be calculated by dividing earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) by the company's net interest expense. With EBIT of 13.23 times its interest expense, IRESS's interest cover is quite strong - more than enough to cover the interest expense.
Remember, you can always get a snapshot of IRESS's latest financial position, by checking our visualisation of its financial health.
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. For the purpose of this article, we only scrutinise the last decade of IRESS's dividend payments. The dividend has been stable over the past 10 years, which is great. We think this could suggest some resilience to the business and its dividends. During the past ten-year period, the first annual payment was AU$0.31 in 2010, compared to AU$0.46 last year. Dividends per share have grown at approximately 4.0% per year over this time.
While the consistency in the dividend payments is impressive, we think the relatively slow rate of growth is unappealing.
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. It's good to see IRESS has been growing its earnings per share at 16% a year over the past five years. Paying out more in dividends than was reported as profit can make sense in some cases, we would be inclined to avoid a company doing this, unless there were a solid reason.
To summarise, shareholders should always check that IRESS's dividends are affordable, that its dividend payments are relatively stable, and that it has decent prospects for growing its earnings and dividend. We're a bit uncomfortable with its high payout ratio, although at least the dividend was covered by free cash flow. We like that it has been delivering solid improvement in its earnings per share, and relatively consistent dividend payments. In sum, we find it hard to get excited about IRESS 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.
Companies that are growing earnings tend to be the best dividend stocks over the long term. See what the 6 analysts we track are forecasting for IRESS for free with public analyst estimates for the company.
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 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.
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.