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Is British Land Company Plc (LON:BLND) A Great Dividend Stock?

Simply Wall St

Could British Land Company Plc (LON:BLND) be an attractive dividend share to own for the long haul? Investors are often drawn to strong companies with the idea of reinvesting the dividends. If you are hoping to live on your dividends, it's important to be more stringent with your investments than the average punter. Regular readers know we like to apply the same approach to each dividend stock, and we hope you'll find our analysis useful.

A high yield and a long history of paying dividends is an appealing combination for British Land. It would not be a surprise to discover that many investors buy it for the dividends. The company also bought back stock equivalent to around 3.6% of market capitalisation this year. 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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LSE:BLND Historical Dividend Yield, November 4th 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. While British Land pays a dividend, it reported a loss over the last year. This is a medium payout level that leaves enough capital in the business to fund opportunities that might arise, while also rewarding shareholders. Plus, there is room to increase the payout ratio over time.

Of the free cash flow it generated last year, British Land paid out 49% as dividends, suggesting the dividend is affordable.

REITs like British Land often have different rules governing their distributions, so a higher payout ratio on its own is not unusual.

Is British Land's Balance Sheet Risky?

As British Land has a meaningful amount of debt, we need to check its balance sheet to see if the company might have debt risks. 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. With net debt of 5.80 times its EBITDA, British Land 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. British Land has EBIT of 5.13 times its interest expense, which we think is adequate. Despite a decent level of interest cover, shareholders should remain cautious about the high level of net debt. Rising rates or tighter debt markets have a nasty habit of making fools of highly-indebted dividend stocks. That said, British Land is in the real estate business, which is typically able to sustain much higher levels of debt, relative to other industries.

Consider getting our latest analysis on British Land's financial position here.

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. British Land has been paying dividends for a long time, but for the purpose of this analysis, we only examine the past 10 years of payments. This dividend has been unstable, which we define as having fallen by at least 20% one or more times over this time. During the past ten-year period, the first annual payment was UK£0.38 in 2009, compared to UK£0.32 last year. The dividend has shrunk at around 1.6% a year during that period. British Land's dividend has been cut sharply at least once, so it hasn't fallen by 1.6% every year, but this is a decent approximation of the long term change.

We struggle to make a case for buying British Land for its dividend, given that payments have shrunk over the past ten years.

Dividend Growth Potential

With a relatively unstable dividend, it's even more important to evaluate if earnings per share (EPS) are growing - it's not worth taking the risk on a dividend getting cut, unless you might be rewarded with larger dividends in future. British Land's EPS have fallen by approximately 43% per year. With this kind of significant decline, we always wonder what has changed in the business. Dividends are about stability, and British Land's earnings per share, which support the dividend, have been anything but stable.

Conclusion

To summarise, shareholders should always check that British Land's dividends are affordable, that its dividend payments are relatively stable, and that it has decent prospects for growing its earnings and dividend. It's great to see that British Land is paying out a low percentage of its earnings and cash flow. Earnings per share are down, and British Land's dividend has been cut at least once in the past, which is disappointing. Ultimately, British Land comes up short on our dividend analysis. It's not that we think it is a bad company - just that there are likely more appealing dividend prospects out there on this analysis.

Without at least some growth in earnings per share over time, the dividend will eventually come under pressure either from costs or inflation. Businesses can change though, and we think it would make sense to see what analysts are forecasting 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.