Today, companies are in a position to once again focus on growing their dividends for several reasons."A dividend-oriented strategy has to be looked at over market cycles—there are times when it will lag, typically coming off a market correction or recession, and times when it does relatively well, usually in periods of market turbulence."
- Strong Balance Sheets: Many companies are flush with cash. A recent Wall Street journal article noted, "U.S. companies are holding more cash in the bank than at any point on record, underscoring persistent worries about financial markets and about the sustainability of the economic recovery. The Federal Reserve reported Thursday that nonfinancial companies had socked away $1.84 trillion in cash and other liquid assets as of the end of March, up 26% from a year earlier and the largest-ever increase in records going back to 1952. Cash made up about 7% of all company assets, including factories and financial investments, the highest level since 1963."
- Sluggish Growth: In periods of slow economic and earnings growth dividends become a more critical part of the total return of a particular company's stock. In this environment companies are likely to respond to the investor's desire for more income from their equity investments. Since 1925, reinvested dividends have accounted for almost 44% of the total return of the S&P 500 Index.
- Less Volatility: Dividend paying stocks tend to be less volatile during downside market volatility. One factor we believe that will be present in the investment markets for the foreseeable future is a more volatile investing climate. A recent T. Rowe Price report notes, "dividend-paying stocks in the S&P 500 outperformed nondividend payers in every bear market since 1973 but tended to lag in bull markets, according to Ned Davis Research (NDR), a market research firm.
During the bear market from March 24, 2000, to October 9, 2002, the S&P 500 plummeted 49.1%, while the Dividend Aristocrats gained 15.5%, according to Strategas Research Partners, another market research firm. In the recent market decline from October 2007 to March 2009, the Aristocrats declined 49.6%, compared with 56.8% for the S&P 500."
- Long-Term Performance: "NDR calculates that from 1972 through March 31, companies in the S&P 500 that have consistently increased or started making their dividend payouts provided an annualized return of 9.4%, compared with 7.3% for companies that paid dividends but did not increase them and only 1.5% for non-dividend-paying stocks."
- Steady Cash Flow: "From 1980 through 2009, dividends on stocks in the S&P 500 grew at an annual compound rate of 4.7% compared with the 3.7% annual inflation rate."
Over a longer time period, principal growth of an equity portfolio outpaces that of a fixed income portfolio as well. The T. Rowe Price article cites a Ned Davis Research study showing this performance difference.
"NDR tracked the performance of two portfolios over the past 25 years. One consisted of the top 50% of dividend payers in the S&P 500. The other was the S&P Long-Term Government Bond Index. The study assumed all interest and dividend payments were taken in cash each year.
Assuming a $500,000 initial investment in each portfolio at the end of 1984, the equity index provided total dividend payments of more than $2.6 million through 2009, or about $212,000 more than the total interest payments from the bonds. Moreover, in terms of principal value, the original $500,000 investment in the stock portfolio grew to more than $2.8 million compared with about $908,000 in the bond portfolio."
Dividends, a Casualty of the Crisis, Poised for a Comeback? (pp12-13)
T. Rowe Price Report