Global dividends fell at the fastest pace since mid-2015 in Q3 as American dividend growth slowed to a post-crisis low.
According to the Henderson global dividend index, U.S. payouts fell to $100.4B, down 7% on a headline basis.
Payments were constrained by subdued profit growth, which can partly be explained by a strong dollar, alongside higher levels of debt, causing management to take a cautious approach when deploying cash.
Dividend strategies in general have done well this year, and dividend growth has outperformed since interest rates began their sharp rise in late summer.
Evercore's Ahbra Banerji suggests even better returns by adding a screen for low payout ratios. Banerji and team tested large-caps, mid-caps, and small-caps, and found combining dividend yield, payout ratio, and growth outperformed simpler dividend strategies.
His top picks using that troika: VF Corp (NYSE:VFC), with a 2.6% yield and 53.4% payout ratio; Tiffany (NYSE:TIF) 2.3% yield and 48.2% payout ratio; Marathon Petroleum (NYSE:MPC) 3.3% yield and 36.3% payout ratio; Phillips 66 (NYSE:PSX) 3% yield and 41.1% payout ratio; BB&T 3% and 42.7% payout ratio.
Because they historically haven't been yield names, tech stocks tend to be underweighted in dividend ETFs. The Vanguard Dividend Appreciation Index (NYSEARCA:VIG), the SPDR S&P Dividend (NYSEARCA:SDY), and the iShares Select Dividend (NYSEARCA:DVY) have 10%, 4%, and 2% of their assets, respectively, in tech.
For those looking for more tech exposure in their dividend ETF, the First Trust Nasdaq Technology Dividend Index (NASDAQ:TDIV) has mostly big-cap tech and telecom services companies which have paid and not cut a dividend in the past year. Apple, Cisco, Qualcomm, Microsoft, and IBM are among the top-10 holdings.
The WisdomTree U.S. Quality Dividend ETF (NASDAQ:DGRW) has 19% of its holdings in tech.
The Schwab U.S. Dividend Equity ETF (NYSEARCA:SCHD) and FlexShares Quality Dividend Defensive ETF (NYSEARCA:QDEF) each have double-digit percentage of AUM in tech.
Net dividend increases of $12B in Q4 compared to $12.7B a year prior. For all 2014, dividend increases of $54.8B were roughly the same as the previous year. 3,308 companies boosted dividends last year vs. 2,895 in 2013.
Non-S&P 500 companies got more into the act, with the percentage of those paying dividends rising to 48.5% in Q4 from 47.7% a year earlier.
The next area to watch for potential increases is the S&P Small Cap 600, says S&P Dow Jones' Howard Silverblatt, noting a net gain of 15 payers over the past six months.
A word of caution: Though the dollar amount of total dividend cuts in Q4 was flat from a year earlier, over half the cuts came from energy issues. It's not yet the financial dividend meltdown of 2008/2009, says Silverblatt, but energy does account for 11% of dividends in the general market.
According to S&P Dow Jones, 1,078 companies boosted dividends in Q1, 14.2% more than a year ago, and besting the previous record of 1.069 set in 1979. The dollar amount of increases foots to $17.8B, 22.9% higher than a year ago. A few cut payouts - 102 out of roughly 10K traded issues, and down from 139 a year ago.
The weighted dividend yield grew 4 basis points during the quarter to 2.48%, says S&P's Howard Silverblatt. Room to grow even more? Payout ratios continue to scrape by at 36% vs. their historic average of 52%.
Comparing metrics for the two of the more popular dividend strategies - the SPDR S&P Dividend ETF (SDY +0.4%) and the Vanguard Dividend Appreciation ETF (VIG +0.7%) - against the two largest large-cap value ETFs - the Russell 1000 Value ETF (IWD +0.9%) and Vanguard's Value ETF (VTV +0.7%) - Larry Swedroe finds valuations quite stretched for the dividend players.
The SDY sports a P/E ratio of 17.2x, price/book ratio of 2.5x, and price/cash flow ratio of 10.5x, with the VIG showing similar. The value ETFs have P/E below 14x, price/books below 2x, and price/cash flow below 6x.
The popularity of dividends has led to a pleasing rise in the values of the stocks, but has thus reduced expected future returns, reminds Swedroe. And for taxable accounts, it's even worse as dividends are less tax-efficient than capital gains.
Q4 net dividend increases of $12.7B compared to $8.4B in 2012 Q4, according to S&P. The number of increases (885), however, pales in comparison to the 1,266 "tax-incentivized" hikes from a year ago (there were 649 in 2011).
Of roughly 10K traded stocks, 51 companies cut payouts in Q4 compared to 154 in the year-earlier quarter.
Room for more hikes? S&P's Howard Silverblatt notes payout rates - which historically average 52% - continue to remain near their low of 36%. "At this point, we expect Q1 to be a very busy positive period for dividends, with 2014 setting another record for payments."
The weighted dividend yield off 2.44% compares to 2.6% in Q3 and 2.8% in Q4 of 2012 as boosted payouts aren't quite keeping pace with the strong advance in equity prices.
The First Trust High Income ETF (FTHI) and Low Beta Income ETF (FTLB) will use index options as a complement to its equity holdings.
The Nasdaq Rising Dividend Achievers ETF (RDVY) tracks an index of 50 companies with a history of raising payouts, and "that exhibit the characteristics to potentially continue doing so in the future."
Nasdaq indices are used in a number of well-followed dividend ETFs such as PowerShares' High Yield Dividend Achievers Portfolio (PEY) and PowerShares' Dividend Achievers Portfolio (PFM).
For its part, FirstTrust's other dividend ETFs include the Nasdaq Technology Index Fund (TDIV) and the Value Line Dividend Index Fund (FVD).
In the battle for investor dollars among dividend ETFs, Vanguard's Dividend Appreciation ETF (VIG) has soared past iShares' Select Dividend ETF (DVY) and SSgA's SPDR S&P Dividend ETF (SDY) on both an absolute basis and a s a percentage of AUM.
The lesser-known Global X SuperDividend ETF (SDIV) has nearly doubled its AUM this year and - at less than 3 years old - is knocking on the door of $1B in assets despite inconsistent performance. Investors desire for income is certainly a boost as is the fund's equal-weighting approach and monthly payout - which fluctuated wildly in 2012, but has settled into a tight range this year.