A hefty dividend is only as good as a company's ability to pay it. Some high yields blink amber. CenturyLink (NYSE:CTL), GameStop (NYSE:GME), and Regal Entertainment Group (NYSE:RGC) currently yield 15.6%, 8.7%, and 5.1%, respectively, but the sustainability of those chunky distributions deserve to be questioned.
We have a regional telco that's been shelling out more than it's been earning for years, a video game retailer facing shifting market dynamics, and a multiplex operator struggling as consumers sidestep movie outings are weighing on how long their dividend policies can continue. Income investors may be flocking to these three stocks for their appetizing quarterly disbursements, but there could be more -- or less -- than meets the eye.
CenturyLink may be holding up better than smaller regional telcos, but it's still playing a dangerous game. Its payout ratio has been north of 100% every year since 2010. CenturyLink hasn't cut its dividend rate since early 2013, but with revenue sliding for the fifth consecutive year and profitability falling even harder, its current rate is on borrowed time.
The revenue slide will end, temporarily, now that CenturyLink closed on its acquisition of Level 3 earlier this month. The problem with the combination is that it blurs visibility even more for CenturyLink as it pertains to its future earnings.
Shares of GameStop hit a five-year low earlier this month, and since the retailer has increased its quarterly distribution rate higher every year since initiating a dividend policy in 2012, we're talking about its yield at a record high.
GameStop's latest quarter surprised the market with positive comps and an earnings beat, but the growth came from collectibles and lower-margin hardware and new software sales. Operating profit took a double-digit percentage hit as higher-margin pre-owned sales slipped, and the technology brands and digital sales that were supposed to be growth drivers staged a retreat.
Everyone knows how this story will end. Video game software distribution has gone digital, cutting out retail middlemen. GameStop's push into collectibles and big-ticket smartphones is noble, but it's also ultimately a losing game.
Regal Entertainment Group
It's not easy running a movie theater these days. Millennials have been forgoing both linear television as well as theatrical outings, and that's hurting multiplex operator Regal Entertainment Group and other film houses.
Revenue and net income have been declining this year as exhibitors struggle to draw audiences. Star Wars: The Last Jedi should help next month, but the overall trend is problematic. Analysts see a return to growth next year, but keep in mind that Wall Street pros have overestimated Regal's bottom-line results in two of the past three quarters.
Regal is at an important juncture. It has earned $0.88 a share over the past four quarters, matching its dividends. If it can't turn earnings around next year, it's going to be hard to stick to its generous payout rate.
Rick Munarriz has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of GameStop and has the following options: short January 2018 $19 calls on GameStop. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.