There is a raging debate of whether someone should go with high-yielding companies today, or whether they should go with lower-yielding investments which, however, offer the promise of increasing payouts at a faster clip. As I have discussed earlier, there is a trade-off between dividend yield and dividend growth, with the decision of which path to take ultimately being dependent on the underlying unique characteristics that an investor has in his or her own opportunity set.
Nevertheless, I still get asked the following question. The question goes something like this: Why go for an investment that yields 3%, with the potential for a 7% in annual dividend growth, when someone can get an investment yielding 6% today? Even if all the expectations turn out to be correct, an investor would have to wait for a long ten years before they collect a 6% yield on their cost. With the other investment, they would have been collecting that 6% yield for 10 years already.
I usually answer those questions with examples which discuss the probabilities of different events happening. However, the reason why I usually go with the lower-yielding stock is due to my experiences. Actually, one of my investing mistakes pretty much sums up why I do what I do.
I will tell you what the risks behind the thinking in the question asked above are by discussing my experience with ONEOK Inc. (NYSE:OKE).
I bought shares of ONEOK Inc. in three separate transactions in 2010-2011 at the following price points: $25.31, $25.71, and $30.20. I liked the fact that shares were offered at a low P/E ratio, had adequate current yield, and offered the opportunity for growth. As a general partner in ONEOK Partners (NYSE:OKS), there was plenty of opportunity for growth. And I think there still is. ONEOK Inc. paid a quarterly dividend of approximately 21 cents per share.
In 2011, I decided that I wanted to earn more in distribution income right away, rather than wait for a few years. I also believed that the shares were too high. So I ended up selling all my shares at $36.18/share and purchasing shares of ONEOK Partners at $41.71/unit.
Since then, ONEOK Inc. spun off ONE Gas (NYSE:OGS). Investors received one share of ONE Gas stock for every four shares of ONEOK Inc. If I had stayed with ONEOK Inc., I would be earning a quarterly dividend of 56 cents/share from ONEOK shares, as well as dividends from ONE Gas shares, where rate is 28 cents/quarter. This comes out to a total of 63 cents/quarter for shares that were bought at an average price of $27.07/share, or a yield on cost of 9.30%. Instead, I am earning a yield on cost of 7.10% by sticking to ONEOK Partners. If growth continues further, as it should, investors in ONEOK Inc. will be generating even higher yields on cost due to high distribution growth.
I violated two of my rules. One is never to sell, even if I had a 1000% gain on the investment. The other rule is that activity is bad for your performance. According to research, 80% of the time the investor is better off staying with their original investment and not doing anything else. I also chased yield by replacing ONEOK Inc. with ONEOK Partners.
I also ended up paying taxes on a portion of the gains. The opportunity cost of the taxes I paid could be very high, because this is money that could have quietly compounded for decades for me and made me even wealthier in the future. It could have meant more money for the causes and people I care about when I die. Instead, I threw the money away and gave it to the government.
Overall, the investment in ONEOK Partners has been satisfactory. However, I made a few mistakes, and probably should not have sold the original shares purchased in ONEOK Inc. Once again, as Warren Buffett says, some of the largest mistakes he has made were mistakes of omission, not mistakes of commission. Other mistakes of omission I have made include watching Williams Companies (NYSE:WMB) go from $32 to $36 in 2013 and not purchasing, because I wanted to buy it cheaper. The company might still be a good investment, given the high forecasted growth in dividends. As a matter of fact, I recently initiated a position in it, and I am hoping it drops from here.
I believe that smart people learn from the mistakes of others. Hence, I hope that my smart readers will learn from those mistakes I made. The goal of every investor is to always be learning and always be improving. If one stops learning and improving, they have a high chance of failing to reach their goals and objectives. The goal is to get a little smarter every single day and remove ignorance one item at a time.
Disclosure: The author is long OKS, WMB. The author wrote this article themselves, and it expresses their own opinions. The author is not receiving compensation for it. The author has no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.