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Is Ardagh Group S.A. (NYSE:ARD) A Smart Pick For Income Investors?

Simply Wall St

Today we'll take a closer look at Ardagh Group S.A. (NYSE:ARD) 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 popular dividend stock because of its yield, and then lose money if the company's dividend doesn't live up to expectations.

In this case, Ardagh Group pays a decent-sized 3.2% dividend yield, and has been distributing cash to shareholders for the past two years. A high yield probably looks enticing, but investors are likely wondering about the short payment history. Some simple analysis can offer a lot of insights when buying a company for its dividend, and we'll go through this below.

Click the interactive chart for our full dividend analysis

NYSE:ARD Historical Dividend Yield, July 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. Comparing dividend payments to a company's net profit after tax is a simple way of reality-checking whether a dividend is sustainable. Although it reported a loss over the past 12 months, Ardagh Group currently pays a dividend. When a company is loss-making, we next need to check to see if its cash flows can support the dividend.

Of the free cash flow it generated last year, Ardagh Group paid out 40% as dividends, suggesting the dividend is affordable.

Is Ardagh Group's Balance Sheet Risky?

Given Ardagh Group is paying a dividend but reported a loss over the past year, 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 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). With net debt of 5.18 times its EBITDA, Ardagh Group could be described as a highly leveraged company. While some companies can handle this level of leverage, we'd be concerned about the dividend sustainability if there was any risk of an earnings downturn.

We calculated its interest cover by measuring its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT), and dividing this by the company's net interest expense. With EBIT of 1.69 times its interest expense, Ardagh Group's interest cover is starting to look a bit thin. Low interest cover and high debt can create problems right when the investor least needs them, and we're reluctant to rely on the dividend of companies with these traits.

Remember, you can always get a snapshot of Ardagh Group's latest financial position, by checking our visualisation of its financial health.

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. The dividend has not fluctuated much, but with a relatively short payment history, we can't be sure this is sustainable across a full market cycle. Its most recent annual dividend was US$0.56 per share, effectively flat on its first payment two years ago.

Modest dividend growth is good to see, especially with the payments being relatively stable. However, the payment history is relatively short and we wouldn't want to rely on this dividend too much.

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. It's good to see Ardagh Group has been growing its earnings per share at 166% a year over the past 5 years.

Conclusion

To summarise, shareholders should always check that Ardagh Group'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 Ardagh Group paid dividends despite reporting a loss over the past year, although fortunately its dividend was covered by cash flow. Unfortunately, there hasn't been any earnings growth, and the company's dividend history has been too short for us to evaluate the consistency of the dividend. While we're not hugely bearish on it, overall we think there are potentially better dividend stocks than Ardagh Group out there.

Earnings growth generally bodes well for the future value of company dividend payments. See if the 7 Ardagh Group analysts we track are forecasting continued growth with our free report on analyst estimates for the company.

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 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.