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Three Things You Should Check Before Buying Gibson Energy Inc. (TSE:GEI) For Its Dividend

Simply Wall St

Dividend paying stocks like Gibson Energy Inc. (TSE:GEI) 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 goodly-sized dividend yield despite a relatively short payment history, investors might be wondering if Gibson Energy is a new dividend aristocrat in the making. It sure looks interesting on these metrics - but there's always more to the story . Some simple research can reduce the risk of buying Gibson Energy for its dividend - read on to learn more.

Click the interactive chart for our full dividend analysis

TSX:GEI Historical Dividend Yield, January 28th 2020

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. So we need to form a view on if a company's dividend is sustainable, relative to its net profit after tax. Gibson Energy paid out 103% of its profit as dividends, over the trailing twelve month period. 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. Gibson Energy paid out 77% of its cash flow last year. This may be sustainable but it does not leave much of a buffer for unexpected circumstances. It's disappointing to see that the dividend was not covered by profits, but cash is more important from a dividend sustainability perspective, and Gibson Energy fortunately did generate enough cash to fund its dividend. Still, if the company repeatedly paid a dividend greater than its profits, we'd be concerned. Extraordinarily few companies are capable of persistently paying a dividend that is greater than their profits.

Is Gibson Energy's Balance Sheet Risky?

As Gibson Energy'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 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 2.63 times its EBITDA, Gibson Energy has a noticeable amount of debt, although if business stays steady, this may not be overly concerning.

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 4.36 times its interest expense, Gibson Energy's interest cover is starting to look a bit thin.

Consider getting our latest analysis on Gibson Energy's financial position here.

Dividend Volatility

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. Looking at the last decade of data, we can see that Gibson Energy 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 CA$0.96 in 2012, compared to CA$1.32 last year. This works out to be a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of approximately 4.1% a year over that time.

It's good to see at least some dividend growth. Yet with a relatively short dividend paying history, we wouldn't want to depend on this dividend too heavily.

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. Earnings have grown at around 8.5% a year for the past five years, which is better than seeing them shrink! Although per-share earnings are growing at a credible rate, virtually all of the income is being paid out as dividends to shareholders. This is okay, but may limit growth in the company's future dividend payments.

Conclusion

When we look at a dividend stock, we need to form a judgement on whether the dividend will grow, if the company is able to maintain it in a wide range of economic circumstances, and if the dividend payout is sustainable. We're a bit uncomfortable with its high payout ratio, although at least the dividend was covered by free cash flow. Next, earnings growth has been good, but unfortunately the company has not been paying dividends as long as we'd like. In sum, we find it hard to get excited about Gibson Energy 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.

Earnings growth generally bodes well for the future value of company dividend payments. See if the 8 Gibson Energy 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%.

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.

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.