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This small-cap dividend hero is up 10% today! Should you rush to buy it?

Infrastructure contractor Costain Group (LSE: COST) has been through a tough time lately, but it’s motoring today, up 10% despite reporting a drop in interim profits. The group said it’s on track to meet revised full-year expectations, previously announced in June, which should see operating profits ranging £38m-£42m.

Costain benefit analysis

This is a small company with a market-cap of just £173m, but one with a really punchy dividend. Right now, it yields more than 10%, with healthy cover equivalent to 2.5 times earnings. It’s also trading at an incredibly low valuation of 5.3 times forecast earnings, which looks like a really exciting opportunity. You won’t be surprised to hear it comes with a bit of risk as well. There are other small-cap contrarian stocks worth looking at too.

Today’s report, for the half-year to 30 June, showed a small drop in underlying operating profit to £21.2m, from £23.2m last year. Markets expected a dip and chose to focus on the positives, such as the improvement in overall divisional operating margin, which climbed from 3.5% to 4%.

Orders, orders

The group also reported strong momentum in securing new work, with £1.1bn of fresh contract awards and extensions to existing contracts during the first half. At 30 June, the order book stood at £4.2bn, a rise of 13.5% year-on-year, while revenue secured for 2020 stood at £900m, some £50m more than last year.

Costain claims a robust balance sheet, with total net assets of £178.4m, including net cash of £40.8m, and a positive current asset ratio. During the first half of the year, its average month-end net cash balance stood at £63.7m, although that was down from £90.8m last year.

Today’s results include a one-off charge of £9.7m to fix a roof after the responsible subcontractor went into administration in November 2017, although this doesn’t appear in underlying numbers.

Taking the lead

CEO Alex Vaughan is driving the group’s new Leading Edge” strategy, accelerating the group’s deployment of higher margin services “through leveraging our strong client relationships and reputation for complex programme delivery.” The aim is to deliver a blended divisional margin range of 6-7% over the medium term.

Costain is fighting back after announcing contract delays and cancellations, which included high-profile projects such as the M6 Smart Motorway, Preston distributor road, and HS2 Southern Section, while the Welsh government cancelled an upgrade to the M4 motorway at Newport.

High cover

The Costain share price is down 55% in the last three months as a result. So that explains why a company with this kind of market-cap pays such a whopping dividend. City analysts expect the yield to fall to 7.3%, which is more than respectable, and has healthy cover of 2.5. There’s scope for progression, with a forecast rise to 8.3% in 2020. Earnings should start to recover in 2020 as well, although the predicted £1.24bn will remain well below 2017’s £1.68bn. 

Costain’s strong balance sheet and healthy order book should encourage investors after two dismal years. Its recovery could have further to run, provided you understand the risks.

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Harvey Jones has no position in any of the shares mentioned. The Motley Fool UK has no position in any of the shares mentioned. Views expressed on the companies mentioned in this article are those of the writer and therefore may differ from the official recommendations we make in our subscription services such as Share Advisor, Hidden Winners and Pro. Here at The Motley Fool we believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.