Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A Look at Dividend Coverage

The Dividend Coverage Ratio is a way to measure how "safe" a dividend is for a firm. For a BDC with a required minimum payout (to avoid taxes), this ratio becomes a little more meaningful. As you can see below, some BDCs will pay out more in dividends than they earned in their current quarter's Net Investment Income.

There are many formulas out there, but this site will use these formulas:

DCR  = Net Investment Income / Current Quarterly Dividend.

DC = Net Investment Income - Current Quarterly Dividend

I am using Net Investment Income because a BDC is required to have at least 70% of their holdings in qualified securities / cash. These investments are the life-blood of a BDC and while many firms generate fee income from structuring deals, these are more volatile. One other note, if a firm pays out dividends on a Monthly basis, I am adding together the past three months of dividends to get the amount. The second formula is useful because it shows you how much room a firm has to pay out its dividend

In the below chart, I have pulled the NII from the BDCR Index and compared that value with their current dividend payouts. In cases where NII is negative, the DCR will also be negative, this allows us to sort the results.


Discussion of Table

As you can see, a large number of the firms are operating at the razor's edge when it comes to their payout ratio. While this is nice for fixed income investors, it may mean that a company is actually paying out their dividends at the expense of the firm. If a company cannot cover the dividend with investment income, it needs to generate the proceeds from another source(s).

  • The first source would be from capital gains on the sales of a firm's assets. This dividend is good for a tax-paying investor in the short-term as it will be classified as a return of capital and taxed (in the US) at the long-term capital gains tax-rate (15% for most people, for the IRS view, please click this link). Return of capital dividends do require you to adjust your cost basis for your position though and that may not be desired from a book-keeping standpoint. For a BDC, this type of dividend payment may be bad as the firm has presumably sold off an income generating asset to meet a payout requirement. 
  • A second source would be from the company tapping their Revolving Credit Facility (Revolver) to get the cash to payout to their investors. Again this may be a bad sign for the firm as they are increasing their interest expense and leverage without any offsetting gain.
  • The final source is when a firm actually goes "Ponzi" and will begin issuing new shares to pay-off old shares. This does not happen on a large scale for long; most firms will cut their dividend or violate a lender covenant if they are in this situation. But, a good example would be AINV for 2008, you can see that their asset values and net investment income were tumbling, but the firm maintained its dividend and partially funded this dividend with proceeds from selling shares. AINV was not the only BDC to do this, but they are an easy target as they are still one of the largest.
A firm that has a DCR over 1 or a DC > 0 is a firm that is currently covering its dividend with its investment proceeds and that may be a sign of a responsible management team. There are some firms that are close to their ideal payout (KCAP for example) that may be correcting their balance sheets, but you should take a look at their dividend and NII history to come to your own conclusions. The best firms in terms of dividend coverage are KFN (which is not a BDC) and MVC. The worst are the firms that have already cancelled their dividend.

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