Dividend paying stocks like Lear Corporation (NYSE:LEA) 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. 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.
With a 2.3% yield and a eight-year payment history, investors probably think Lear looks like a reliable dividend stock. While the yield may not look too great, the relatively long payment history is interesting. The company also bought back stock during the year, equivalent to approximately 8.3% of the company's market capitalisation at the time. Before you buy any stock for its dividend however, you should always remember Warren Buffett's two rules: 1) Don't lose money, and 2) Remember rule #1. We'll run through some checks below to help with this.
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. Comparing dividend payments to a company's net profit after tax is a simple way of reality-checking whether a dividend is sustainable. In the last year, Lear paid out 18% of its profit as dividends. With a low payout ratio, it looks like the dividend is comprehensively covered by earnings.
In addition to comparing dividends against profits, we should inspect whether the company generated enough cash to pay its dividend. Lear's cash payout ratio last year was 19%, which is quite low and suggests that the dividend was thoroughly covered by cash flow. It's encouraging to see that the dividend is covered by both profit and cash flow. This generally suggests the dividend is sustainable, as long as earnings don't drop precipitously.
Consider getting our latest analysis on Lear's financial position here.
One of the major risks of relying on dividend income, is the potential for a company to struggle financially and cut its dividend. Not only is your income cut, but the value of your investment declines as well - nasty. Looking at the last decade of data, we can see that Lear paid its first dividend at least eight years ago. Its dividend has not fluctuated much that time, which we like, but we're conscious that the company might not yet have a track record of maintaining dividends in all economic conditions. During the past eight-year period, the first annual payment was US$0.50 in 2011, compared to US$3.00 last year. This works out to be a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of approximately 25% a year over that time.
The dividend has been growing pretty quickly, which could be enough to get us interested even though the dividend history is relatively short. Further research may be warranted.
Dividend Growth Potential
Examining whether the dividend is affordable and stable is important. However, it's also important to assess if earnings per share (EPS) are growing. Over the long term, dividends need to grow at or above the rate of inflation, in order to maintain the recipient's purchasing power. Strong earnings per share (EPS) growth might encourage our interest in the company despite fluctuating dividends, which is why it's great to see Lear has grown its earnings per share at 26% per annum over the past five years. Earnings per share have grown rapidly, and the company is retaining a majority of its earnings. We think this is ideal from an investment perspective, if the company is able to reinvest these earnings effectively.
To summarise, shareholders should always check that Lear's dividends are affordable, that its dividend payments are relatively stable, and that it has decent prospects for growing its earnings and dividend. First, we like that the company's dividend payments appear well covered, although the retained capital also needs to be effectively reinvested. Next, earnings growth has been good, but unfortunately the company has not been paying dividends as long as we'd like. Lear performs highly under this analysis, although it falls slightly short of our exacting standards. At the right valuation, it could be a solid dividend prospect.
Earnings growth generally bodes well for the future value of company dividend payments. See if the 19 Lear analysts we track are forecasting continued growth with our free report on 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%.
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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.