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Today we'll take a closer look at United Internet AG (FRA:UTDI) 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 a 2.8% yield and a nine-year payment history, investors probably think United Internet looks like a reliable dividend stock. A 2.8% yield is not inspiring, but the longer payment history has some appeal. When buying stocks for their dividends, you should always run through the checks below, to see if the dividend looks sustainable.
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 be form a view on if a company's dividend is sustainable, relative to its net profit after tax. In the last year, United Internet paid out 117% of its profit as dividends. Unless there are extenuating circumstances, from the perspective of an investor who hopes to own the company for many years, a payout ratio of above 100% is definitely a concern.
We also measure dividends paid against a company's levered free cash flow, to see if enough cash was generated to cover the dividend. United Internet paid out 54% of its cash flow as dividends last year, which is within a reasonable range for the average corporation. It's good to see that while United Internet's dividends were not covered by profits, at least they are affordable from a cash perspective. If executives were to continue paying more in dividends than the company reported in profits, we'd view this as a warning sign. Extraordinarily few companies are capable of persistently paying a dividend that is greater than their profits.
Is United Internet's Balance Sheet Risky?
As United Internet's dividend was not well covered by earnings, we need to check its balance sheet for signs of financial distress. A quick way to check a company's financial situation uses these two ratios: net debt divided by EBITDA (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation), and 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 on debt. Essentially we check that a) a company does not have too much debt, and b) that it can afford to pay the interest. With net debt of 1.72 times its earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA), United Internet has an acceptable level of debt.
We calculated its interest cover by measuring its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT), and dividing this by the company's net interest expense. United Internet has interest cover of more than 12 times its interest expense, which we think is quite strong.
We update our data on United Internet 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 first recorded dividend for United Internet, 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 €0.20 in 2010, compared to €0.90 last year. This works out to be a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of approximately 18% a year over that time.
United Internet has been growing its dividend quite rapidly, which is exciting. However, the short payment history makes us question whether this performance will persist across a full market cycle.
Dividend Growth Potential
The other half of the dividend investing equation is evaluating whether earnings per share (EPS) are growing. Growing EPS can help maintain or increase the purchasing power of the dividend over the long run. Over the past five years, it looks as though United Internet's EPS have declined at around 6.3% a year. Declining earnings per share over a number of years is not a great sign for the dividend investor. Without some improvement, this does not bode well for the long term value of a company's dividend.
To summarise, shareholders should always check that United Internet'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 not keen on the fact that United Internet paid out such a high percentage of its income, although its cashflow is in better shape. Earnings per share have been falling, and the company has a relatively short dividend history - shorter than we like, anyway. Using these criteria, United Internet looks quite suboptimal from a dividend investment perspective.
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 15 analysts we track are forecasting for the future.
Looking for more high-yielding dividend ideas? Try our curated list of dividend stocks with a yield above 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 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.