Can Dillard's Afford a 50% Dividend Hike?

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On Thursday, department store retailer Dillard’s Inc. (NYSE: DDS) announced a 50% boost to the company’s quarterly cash dividend. The new $0.15-per-share dividend will be paid in November to shareholders of record as of September 30.

As of Thursday, the company’s $0.10 quarterly dividend represented a yield of just 0.7%; the announced boost lifts that to a whopping 1.1%. Even with that gain, Dillard’s remains last among four traditional department store stocks: the Macy’s Inc. (NYSE: M) forward annual dividend yield is 9.7%, Kohl’s Corp. (NYSE: KSS) has a forward annual dividend yield of 5.66% and TJX Companies Inc. (NYSE: TJX) is expected to yield 1.68%. Sadly, Dillard’s 1.1% still trails.

On virtually any other financial metric, Dillard’s ranks either third or fourth in this group. Let’s look at the annual price-to-free-cash-flow (P/FCF) ratio. At TJX the ratio is 48.6, and Macy’s P/FCF ratio is 26.56. Kohl’s has a P/FCF ratio of 9.95, while Dillard’s is 6.76. That’s really cheap. Either the stock is a good value or it’s a value trap.

Dillard’s cash flow from operations in 2018 was $367.29 million and its capital spending totaled $137.06 million. Of that, more than $230 million in free cash flow, Dillard’s paid $11.1 million in dividends ($0.40 per share annualized). The shares lost 0.5% in 2018 ($0.31 per share). Dividend plus share-price loss is not much better than break-even, and there’s little sign that change is on its way.

The company’s cash hoard at the end of the July quarter was $118.1 million and its long-term debt totaled just $567 million. But Dillard’s store count is virtually the same now as it was at the end of 2014: 289 now versus 297 then. The company just announced that it will be closing three more stores.

Earlier this month, Dillard’s announced an operating loss of $1.59 a share in its second fiscal quarter, including a $4.9 million pretax gain from the sale of a store property. Merchandise sales were down 2.2% year over year and gross margin tumbled by 3.0%.

Members of the Dillard family own more than 99% of the firm’s class B shares that include the power to elect two-thirds of the company’s board. Class A shares are empowered to elect the remaining third. The board chair and chief executive is William Dillard II.

Dillard’s wants to avoid the fate of its once much-larger rival, J.C. Penney. However, buying shareholders affections with a 50% stock hike is not working in this case either. Shares traded down about 2.4% in the late morning Friday, at $54.87 in a 52-week range of $47.95 to $86.51. The 12-month consensus share price is $45.80.

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