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written by Marc Lichtenfeld

During the global financial crisis 15 years ago, Arbor Realty Trust (NYSE: ABR) eliminated its dividend.

As far as the Safety Net model is concerned, though, the statute of limitations has expired. Safety Net considers companies’ dividend activity over the past 10 years only. Anything beyond that is ancient history.

Arbor Realty began paying a dividend again in 2012 and has raised it every year since 2015. It has regained its status as a respectable member of dividend-paying society.

But does that make its 12.7% yield safe?

Arbor Realty is a mortgage real estate investment trust, or mortgage REIT, that lends money to owners and buyers of apartment buildings.

Last year, the company’s net interest income (NII), the measure of cash flow that we use for mortgage REITs, was up sharply from the previous two years. The $391 million total was 54% higher than the 2021 figure of $254 million and more than double 2020’s $170 million.

There are no official estimates for Arbor Realty’s NII in 2023 or 2024. But over the first three quarters of this year, it totaled $324 million, and it looks to be on pace to surpass $400 million for the full year.

Chart: Arbor Realty Trust's Booming Net Interest Income

The company paid out $282 million in dividends over the first three quarters of 2023, which gives it a payout ratio of 87%.

When it comes to REITs, I’m fine with a payout ratio of 100% or lower because REITs, by law, must pay at least 90% of their profits to shareholders in the form of dividends.

Over the past decade, Arbor Realty has an excellent dividend-paying (and dividend-raising) track record. Its payout ratio is reasonable, so the dividend appears safe.

The only question is… how safe?

Since there are no NII estimates available for 2023 or 2024, the next-best figure to use is revenue, which is forecast to decline by 4% from this year to next year. So I’m going to be just a little bit cautious with this one.

I’m not worried about a dividend cut in the next 12 months, but if 2024 turns out to be worse than expected, we’ll want to revisit this rating next year.

Dividend Safety Rating: B

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