Regular readers will know that we love our dividends at Simply Wall St, which is why it's exciting to see Strategic Education, Inc. (NASDAQ:STRA) is about to trade ex-dividend in the next 3 days. The ex-dividend date is one business day before a company's record date, which is the date on which the company determines which shareholders are entitled to receive a dividend. It is important to be aware of the ex-dividend date because any trade on the stock needs to have been settled on or before the record date. This means that investors who purchase Strategic Education's shares on or after the 2nd of September will not receive the dividend, which will be paid on the 13th of September.
The company's next dividend payment will be US$0.60 per share. Last year, in total, the company distributed US$2.40 to shareholders. Last year's total dividend payments show that Strategic Education has a trailing yield of 3.1% on the current share price of $76.91. Dividends are a major contributor to investment returns for long term holders, but only if the dividend continues to be paid. As a result, readers should always check whether Strategic Education has been able to grow its dividends, or if the dividend might be cut.
If a company pays out more in dividends than it earned, then the dividend might become unsustainable - hardly an ideal situation. Strategic Education distributed an unsustainably high 123% of its profit as dividends to shareholders last year. Without extenuating circumstances, we'd consider the dividend at risk of a cut. That said, even highly profitable companies sometimes might not generate enough cash to pay the dividend, which is why we should always check if the dividend is covered by cash flow. Over the last year it paid out 52% of its free cash flow as dividends, within the usual range for most companies.
It's disappointing to see that the dividend was not covered by profits, but cash is more important from a dividend sustainability perspective, and Strategic Education 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.
Have Earnings And Dividends Been Growing?
Businesses with shrinking earnings are tricky from a dividend perspective. If earnings fall far enough, the company could be forced to cut its dividend. Strategic Education's earnings per share have fallen at approximately 12% a year over the previous five years. When earnings per share fall, the maximum amount of dividends that can be paid also falls.
Strategic Education also issued more than 5% of its market cap in new stock during the past year, which we feel is likely to hurt its dividend prospects in the long run. It's hard to grow dividends per share when a company keeps creating new shares.
Many investors will assess a company's dividend performance by evaluating how much the dividend payments have changed over time. Strategic Education has seen its dividend decline 5.0% per annum on average over the past 10 years, which is not great to see. While it's not great that earnings and dividends per share have fallen in recent years, we're encouraged by the fact that management has trimmed the dividend rather than risk over-committing the company in a risky attempt to maintain yields to shareholders.
The Bottom Line
Should investors buy Strategic Education for the upcoming dividend? Earnings per share have been shrinking in recent times. What's more, Strategic Education is paying out a majority of its earnings and over half its free cash flow. It's hard to say if the business has the financial resources and time to turn things around without cutting the dividend. It's not an attractive combination from a dividend perspective, and we're inclined to pass on this one for the time being.
Having said that, if you're looking at this stock without much concern for the dividend, you should still be familiar of the risks involved with Strategic Education. For example, we've found 3 warning signs for Strategic Education that we recommend you consider before investing in the business.
A common investment mistake is buying the first interesting stock you see. Here you can find a list of promising dividend stocks with a greater than 2% yield and an upcoming dividend.
This article by Simply Wall St is general in nature. We provide commentary based on historical data and analyst forecasts only using an unbiased methodology and our articles are not intended to be financial advice. It does not constitute a recommendation to buy or sell any stock, and does not take account of your objectives, or your financial situation. We aim to bring you long-term focused analysis driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis may not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements or qualitative material. Simply Wall St has no position in any stocks mentioned.
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