At a glance, GameStop (GME) is a tempting dividend stock for retired income investors.
GameStop offers a high dividend yield in excess of 6% and has increased its dividend every year since initiating its dividend program in 2012.
The company has a healthy payout ratio near 40% and consistently generates positive free cash flow as well.
But at the same time, it’s important to note that high yields, especially in this time of historically low interest rates, can be a red flag that a company is a “value trap,” meaning that something is deeply flawed about its business model.
Let’s take a look at GameStop’s high yield using our Dividend Safety Scores to see if the company could be worth owning in a diversified dividend growth portfolio.
Founded in 1994 in Grapevine, Texas, GameStop operates more than 7,600 stores in the U.S., Australia, Canada, and Europe.
Its primary business is selling new and used video game hardware and software, including accessories such as gaming consoles, controllers, gaming headsets, and memory cards. These segments account for more than 65% of GameStop’s gross profit.
In recent years, GameStop attempted to diversify its business by getting into the consumer electronics business, specifically selling new and used smartphones and tablets, as well as launching Spring Mobile.
Spring Mobile is an AT&T (T) authorized reseller that sells pre-paid phone plans under the Cricket Wireless brand. The company has also partnered with Apple (AAPL) to launch 72 Simply Mac specialty stores, which serve as tech support hubs for Apple products.
GameStop also owns a diverse portfolio of video game websites such as Ebgames.com, Kongragate.com, and Thinkgeek.com.
While 2016 saw non-physical gaming revenues of over $2 billion, at the end of the day GameStop continues to be a company whose fortunes remain tied to physical gaming hardware, which is an industry in secular decline.
Even management’s long-term plan to continue diversifying its sales, earnings, and cash flow, won’t change that anytime soon. Physical video games are still expected to account for about 50% of earnings in 2019.
As you can see, GameStop has had a problem in recent years with slowing sales and earnings growth.
Worse yet, the small amount of earnings per share and free cash flow per share growth has mainly been a result of the company buying back shares at an impressive rate of 6.6% per year over the last seven years.
When shares outstanding decrease, net income and free cash flow is higher on a per share basis even if their total dollar amounts haven’t changed. This game can only last so long if a business is unable to actually grow its bottom line.
In recent quarters, GameStop’s financial engineering efforts have started to flounder, with sales declines resulting in deterioration in both profit margins and earnings per share.
The problem is that GameStop’s core business of selling gaming hardware and physical video games is coming under pressure from the likes of Sony and Microsoft (MSFT).
Specifically, the video game industry is evolving away from physical games and towards digital downloads.
For example, Playstation and Xbox are increasingly moving towards a subscription based business.
Rather than owning hard copies of the games played on their consoles (and that can be sold to GameStop for resale to other gamers at a profit), Sony and Microsoft are monetizing their gaming businesses at GameStop’s expense by renting out the games via online channels.
The need for a brick-and-mortar retailer is increasingly diminished by e-commerce yet again, and this isn’t just limited to new games either.
For example, Microsoft just announced Game Pass, a $9.99 per month subscription service that gives subscribers access to over 100 of the most popular older Xbox One and Xbox 360 games.
Worse yet? Subscribers will be able to purchase these games at a 20% discount to their retail price, news that directly impacts GameStop’s bottom line (GameStop generates over 30% of its gross profit from older game sales).
Wall Street understandably reacted violently to this news, with shares crashing 10% the day of the announcement.
All in all, GameStop’s struggle to hold onto its shrinking market share can be summarized by abysmal same store sales growth (-11% in 2016) and deteriorating profitability.
While GameStop has seen some success from its non-physical game businesses, mainly due to an increasingly aggressive acquisition strategy of adding ever more non-core businesses to its portfolio (see below), the margins on those businesses are lower than its legacy business.
Unfortunately, this strategy has resulted in a steady decline in profitability, and most of GameStop’s profit metrics are now below those of its rivals.
|Company||Operating Margin||Net Margin||FCF Margin||Return On Assets||Return On Equity|
Management’s long-term growth plans of diversifying away from physical games might eventually return the company’s sales to positive growth territory, but these actions seem likely to continue coming at the expense of GameStop’s profitability.
In fact, GameStop’s free cash flow margin, one of the most important metrics for dividend investors (free cash flow is what funds the current dividend and allows its sustainable growth), has declined from a high of 7% in 2014 to just 5% over the past 12 months.
This trend could spell trouble for the company’s dividend profile going forward and seems likely to make favorable long-term total returns harder to come by for shareholders.
While it’s true that GameStop enjoys strong brand recognition, has a solid market share position in video games, and still generates nice free cash flow, finding a long-term replacement for its high-margin video game segment will be very challenging.
The company’s shotgun approach to quickly expand its business into adjacent and unrelated markets poses strategic and operational challenges, and GameStop seems likely to be growing into lower-returning businesses over time – a strategy I prefer to avoid as an investor.
GameStop, like Best Buy (BBY), is in a race against time to reinvent its business model while