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Beware of Dangerous Dividends

In the meantime, Pitney has 7x more debt on the balance sheet than cash and $825 million of the borrowings coming due over the next two years. With few identifiable catalysts, I believe the action of the underlying stock will continue to deteriorate the benefit of the company's dividend, for as long as management can afford to pay it.

RR Donnelley (RRD - Get Report) is another stock who's 8.8% dividend yield may not be as attractive as initial glance, after taking a closer look at the company's underlying fundamentals. At $11.82, the shares have fallen 18%, year-to-date, more than offsetting any potential benefit of the dividend income.

Again, the story at RR Donnelley is similar to what it is at Pitney Bowes: a declining core business. In this case, the company operates in commercial printing, where both volume and pricing have been weak for several quarters.

RR Donnelley can currently cover its quarterly dividend of $0.26 a share at 1.7x of expected full-year earnings. However, the company's profit is expected to be flat at best over the next few years and the stock is not attracting many investors -- even though it is trading at 6x expected full-year earnings. In the meantime, RR Donnelley has 10x more debt than cash on its balance sheet and its bonds have been designated with a Junk rating by S&P.

Declining earnings and a high debt load should be red flags for investors looking at stocks with above-average dividend yields. As a result, Pitney Bowes and RR Donnelley could soon find their payouts on the chopping block.
David Peltier is a research associate at TheStreet. In keeping with company editorial policy, he doesn't own or short individual stocks. He also doesn't invest in hedge funds or other private investment partnerships. Under no circumstances does the information in this column represent a recommendation to buy or sell stocks. Peltier appreciates your feedback; click here to send him an email.
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