Why National Retail Properties, Inc.’s (NYSE: NNN) Dividend Potential Should Concern Investors


National Retail Properties, Inc. (NYSE: NNN) currently pays a dividend yield of 5.0% which is above the Real Estate sector median of 4.7%. While this makes the total return potential for National Retail look attractive, investors may change their mind when analyzing the company’s future dividends. In this article, I calculate National Retail’s fair value by forecasting its dividend distributions and discounting them back to today’s value.

Valuation Methodologies Are Not Made Equally

The Dividend Discount Model (DDM) estimates the value of a company’s stock price based on the theory that its worth is equal to the sum of the present value of its future dividend payments to shareholders.

But how do we know if it’s appropriate to use a dividend discount analysis when estimating the fair value of National Retail? Many analysts find it difficult when trying to figure out the correct valuation methodology for a given company or are biased towards one specific approach. This is often a mistake which can negatively impact investment decisions and result in trading losses or missed opportunities. No two companies are the same and every business consists of unique characteristics that may require you to adjust your analysis.

Understanding leverage trends is the first step when determining what valuation analyses are relevant for a given company. When a company’s leverage doesn’t fluctuate or is expected to remain stable over time, then an equity valuation model (e.g. equity DCF, DDM) will be the most appropriate valuation technique. The reason for this is because when leverage is stable, interest expense on debt can typically be projected with much more reliability.

How do we check if a company’s leverage has been fluctuating or is expected to do so? This isn’t always straightforward but checking recent debt ratio trends can be a good indicator. National Retail’s debt to equity ratio has been relatively stable over last few years ranging from 71.4% to 80.4%. This suggests that an equity valuation model is a suitable technique when valuing the company’s shares. Now does it make sense to use a dividend discount model knowing that an equity valuation technique is an appropriate methodology?

The next step is to figure out if National Retail pays a dividend and if so, is its payout ratio relatively high (typically above 75%)? The table below highlights this information.

National Retail Payout Ratio Table

Source: National Retail dividend discount model

National Retail distributed a total of $277 million in cash dividends to shareholders in its most recent fiscal year Dec-17 which represented a payout ratio of 127.6%. It appears that the company meets both criteria. Therefore, it is fitting to use a dividend discount model when determining the fair value of National Retail stock.

Forecasting National Retail’s Dividends

The first step in building a dividend discount model is to forecast net income since forecasting dividends directly can be difficult. So let’s create a net income forecast for the next five years and use that as the basis for projecting future dividends.

As of April 20, Wall Street analysts are projecting a mediocre growth rate in the company’s bottom-line over the next five years. Net income is expected to reach $295 million by fiscal year 2022.

National Retail Net Income Growth Chart

Source: National Retail Projected Net Income Growth

I use the net income projections above to serve as the basis for my dividend forecast. The next step is to forecast the payout ratio where I selected 90.0% for the next fiscal year which is in line with historical levels.

National Retail Dividend Forecast

Source: National Retail dividend discount model

Calculating National Retail’s Fair Value

The last step is to select a discount rate to calculate the present value of the forecasted dividends. I used finbox.io’s Weighted Average Cost of Capital (WACC) model to help arrive at an estimate for the company’s cost of equity.

I determined a reasonable discount rate for National Retail to be 9.7% at the midpoint. An updated cost of capital analysis using real-time data can be found at finbox.io’s National Retail WACC model page.

National Retail Dividend Fair Value Conclusion

The assumptions used in the dividend discount model calculate a fair value per share for National Retail of $23.90, -37.1% below its current stock price of $37.99. Therefore, NNN appears to be an overvalued stock and not necessarily a good entry point opportunity.

Conclusion: Dividends Don’t Support Stock Price

Discovering the fair value of a company can sometimes be difficult. However, determining an appropriate valuation methodology should not be. Knowing when and when not to use the dividend discount model will help in your investment decision making process.

However, it’s important to understand that a dividend discount model will inherently undervalue a stock. This is typically the result of the payout ratio assumption being less than 100% implying some cash leakage. Meaning the approach does not capture value that would otherwise build up as cash on the balance sheet. In practice, this excess retained cash is usually paid out to shareholders as special dividends or to make up for cash shortfalls for future dividends during economic downturns.

This helps explain, at least partially, why National Retail looks like an overvalued stock based on this approach. Nevertheless, a dividend discount analysis is still a helpful tool in combination with the understanding that it calculates a conservative intrinsic value estimate. Meaning an extremely attractive opportunity would be a stock where (1) a dividend discount model is appropriate and (2) shares looks undervalued based on its future dividends.

Note that there are a number of fundamental factors I have not considered in this analysis. I recommend that you continue your research on National Retail to gain a better understanding of its future prospects.

As of this writing, I did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities and this is not a buy or sell recommendation on any security mentioned.

Expertise: financial modeling, mergers & acquisitions. Andy is also a founder at finbox.io, where he’s focused on building tools that make it faster and easier for investors to do investment research. Andy’s background is in investment banking where he led the analysis on over 50 board advisory engagements involving mergers and acquisitions, fairness opinions and solvency opinions. Some of his board advisory highlights: - Sears Holdings Corp.’s $620 mm spin-off via rights offering of Sears Outlet, Hometown Stores and Sears Hardware Stores. - Cerberus Capital Management’s $3.3 bn acquisition of SUPERVALU Inc.’s New Albertsons, Inc. assets. Andy can be reached at andy@finbox.io or at +1 (516) 778-6257.

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