In these turbulent times, it's hard to find safe places to invest. Many people are watching their 401k funds shrink before their eyes, particularly if they held any significant portion of their accounts in finance sector investments. Meanwhile, there are some stocks that are quietly paying dividends as usual. There's nothing like sending cash to each investor every three months to buoy confidence in a company's stock.
That's exactly what World Wrestling Entertainment Inc. (NYSE: WWE) is doing. The company issued a statement on Monday that it "feels confident it can fund the dividend for the long term." The WWE press release cited its strong cash flow and healthy balance sheet.
So just how much cash does the WWE send its investors? At the current price, the dividend yield is 9.5%. That's an annual dividend of $1.44 per share on a stock which closed Tuesday at $15.46.
Of course, a sinking tide is going to pull all the boats down with it, but those companies that have strong cash generating positions and which opt to share that cash with the ownership of the company can make it much easier to ride out the ebb and flow of tough markets.
In fact, companies who maintain or increase their dividend payouts through periods when the stock price is getting hit will see their yields jump in proportion to the falling share price. This can make them among the most attractive issues during times of financial volatility. Of course, this only applies if the company's business operations are likely to be unaffected by whatever it is that ails the economy and causes these broad-based downturns. The Wrestling business, according to the WWE, doesn't look to be affected by the banking crisis, although one might see some amateur competition from Capitol Hill as the two parties wrangle over the economy. Other high-paying dividend companies can be more difficult to judge.
Take Frontline Shipping (NYSE: FRO), for example, this company closed on Tuesday at $48.07 per share. Long time shareholders have gotten used to enormous, but fluctuating dividend payments. On September 19th, the company paid a quarterly dividend of $3.00 per share. Annualized that would equate to $12.00 a year, or a whopping 27% yield at Tuesday's closing price.
While the more typical payment has been in the neighborhood of $1.50 per share, that's still a yield of over 13%. Many long-term holders of Frontline have seen their entire purchase price returned in the form of Return of Capital and Dividend cash payments over the years.
However, many shipping industry analysts have been predicting a glut of new oil tankers showing up on the market and driving the rates Frontline can command for its vessels way down. Lower charter rates means less cash flow and by necessity, lower dividends if they are right. Buying a new oil tanker, however, requires a boatload of cash and credit, and with the coming credit squeeze, it's not clear that those who have contracted for all these new ships are going to have the wherewithal to finance them. Already there are a rising number of cancellations.
So that might spell opportunity for large established players, right? Well, maybe. A significant downturn in the global economy could restrict the growth of oil demand around the world. That would mean the existing oil tankers would have less business to divvy up between them.
In other words, the oil tanker business is far less easy to predict than, say, wrestling. While Frontline has a long history of incredible dividend payments, and has the higher yield, it is certainly in a much more complex business sector with a strong dependency on many global situations that are beyond the immediate control of the company's management. While they have shown in the past that they can react to those events well and continue paying dividends, there's no guarantee of that in the future.
So is a 27% or even a 13.5% yield very attractive in today's market?
You bet it is, but investors should spend the time and effort to study the business environment of high-yield companies to make sure they understand what they are buying into before they rush to shield their portfolios with dividend payers.