Dividend investing is a tried-and-true strategy for generating strong, steady returns in economies both good and bad. But as corporate America's slew of dividend cuts and suspensions over the past few years has demonstrated, it's not enough simply to buy a high yield. You also need to make sure those payouts are sustainable.
Let's examine how Seaspan (NYSE: SSW ) stacks up. In this series, we consider four critical factors investors should examine in every dividend stock. We'll then tie it all together to look at whether Seaspan is a dividend dynamo or a disaster in the making.
First and foremost, dividend investors like a large forward yield. But if a yield gets too high, it may reflect investors' doubts about the payout's sustainability. If investors had confidence in the stock, they'd be buying it, driving up the share price and shrinking the yield.
Seaspan yields 5.3%, considerably higher than the S&P 500's 2.1%.
2. Payout ratio
The payout ratio might be the most important metric for judging dividend sustainability. It compares the amount of money a company paid out in dividends last year to the earnings it generated. A ratio that's too high -- say, greater than 80% of earnings -- indicates that the company may be stretching to make payouts it can't afford, even when its dividend yield doesn't seem particularly high.
Seaspan doesn't have a payout ratio because it didn't generate earnings to common shareholders last year.
3. Balance sheet
The best dividend payers have the financial fortitude to fund growth and respond to whatever the economy and competitors throw at them. The interest coverage ratio indicates whether a company is having trouble meeting its interest payments -- any ratio less than five is a warning sign. Meanwhile, the debt-to-equity ratio is a good measure of a company's total debt burden.
Seaspan has a debt-to-! equity r atio of 283% and an interest coverage rate of 5.2 times.
A large dividend is nice; a large growing dividend is even better. To support a growing dividend, we also want to see earnings growth.
Over the past five years, Seaspan's quarterly dividend has fallen from $0.42 to $0.18. After paying preferred dividends, Seaspan's earnings last year were negative.
The Foolish bottom line
Despite its high yield and manageable debt, Seaspan doesn't exactly qualify as a "dividend dynamo" right now due to its earnings losses. Dividend investors will want to keep an eye on the health of the containership business and Seaspan's earnings to see when it'll be able to support -- and hopefully grow -- its dividend. If you're looking for some great dividend stocks, check out "Secure Your Future With 11 Rock-Solid Dividend Stocks," a special report from the Motley Fool about some serious dividend dynamos. I invite you to grab a free copy to discover everything you need to know about the 11 generous dividend payers -- simply click here.