Is SGS SA (VTX:SGSN) a good dividend stock? How can we tell? Dividend paying companies with growing earnings can be highly rewarding in the long term. On the other hand, investors have been known to buy a stock because of its yield, and then lose money if the company’s dividend doesn’t live up to expectations.
A high yield and a long history of paying dividends is an appealing combination for SGS. We’d guess that plenty of investors have purchased it for the income. Some simple analysis can offer a lot of insights when buying a company for its dividend, and we’ll go through this below.
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Dividends are usually paid out of company earnings. If a company is paying more than it earns, 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. Looking at the data, we can see that 92% of SGS’s profits were paid out as dividends in the last 12 months. Its payout ratio is quite high, and the dividend is not well covered by earnings. If earnings are growing or the company has a large cash balance, this might be sustainable – still, we think it is 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. SGS paid out 69% of its cash flow as dividends last year, which is within a reasonable range for the average corporation. While the dividend was not well covered by profits, at least they were covered by free cash flow. Even so, if the company were to continue paying out almost all of its profits, we’d be concerned about whether the dividend is sustainable in a downturn.
Is SGS’s Balance Sheet Risky?
As SGS’s dividend was not well covered by earnings, we need to check its balance sheet for signs of financial distress. A quick check of its financial situation can be done with 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. Essentially we check that a) the company does not have too much debt, and b) that it can afford to pay the interest. SGS has net debt of 0.66 times its EBITDA, which is generally an okay level of debt for most companies.
We calculated its interest cover by measuring its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT), and dividing this by the company’s net interest expense. SGS has interest cover of more than 12 times its interest expense, which we think is quite strong.
Consider getting our latest analysis on SGS’s financial position 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. For the purpose of this article, we only scrutinise the last decade of SGS’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 CHF60.00 in 2010, compared to CHF80.00 last year. This works out to be a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of approximately 2.9% a year over that time.
Slow and steady dividend growth might not sound that exciting, but dividends have been stable for ten years, which we think is seriously impressive.
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. SGS’s EPS are effectively 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. Still, the company has struggled to grow its EPS, and currently pays out 92% of its earnings. Limited recent earnings growth and a high payout ratio makes it hard for us to envision strong future dividend growth, unless the company should have substantial pricing power or some form of competitive advantage.
To summarise, shareholders should always check that SGS’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. Second, earnings growth is pretty limited, but at least the dividends have been relatively stable. While we’re not hugely bearish on it, overall we think there are potentially better dividend stocks than SGS out there.
It’s important to note that companies having a consistent dividend policy will generate greater investor confidence than those having an erratic one. Still, investors need to consider a host of other factors, apart from dividend payments, when analysing a company. For example, we’ve picked out 4 warning signs for SGS that investors should know about before committing capital to this stock.
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 [email protected] 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.
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