Over the last 18 months, stock prices have been flat as a pancake. Absent a few brief China and recessionary scares, the Dow Jones Industrial Average index has spent most of 2015 and 2016 trading between the relatively tight levels of 17,000 - 18,000. Record corporate profits and faster growth than other developed and developing markets have created a tug-of-war with countervailing factors. A strong dollar, reversal in monetary policy, geopolitical turmoil, and volatile commodity markets have produced a neutralizing struggle among corporate executives with deep financial pockets and short arms. In this environment, share buybacks, stable profit margins, and growing dividends have taken precedence over accelerated capital investments and expensive new-hires.
With flat stock prices and interest rates at unprecedented low levels, it's during times like these that stock investors really appreciate the appetizing flavor of stable, growing dividends. To this day, I still find it almost impossible to fathom how investors are burning money by irrationally speculating in $7 trillion in negative interest rate bonds.
Historically there are very few periods in which stock dividend yields have exceeded bond yields (2.1% S&P yield vs. 1.8% 10-Year Treasury yield). As I showed in my Dividend Floodgates article, for roughly 50 years (1960 - 2010), the yield on the 10-Year Treasury Notes have exceeded the dividend yield on stocks (S&P 500) - that longstanding trend does not hold today.
In the face of the competitive stock market, several trends are contributing to the upward trajectory in dividend payments (see chart below).
#1.) Corporate profits (ex-Energy) are growing and at/near record levels. Earnings are critical in providing fertile ground for dividend growth.
#2.) Demographics, plain and simple. As 76 million Baby Boomers transition into retirement, their income needs escalate. These shareholders wine and complain to corporate executives to share the spoils and increase dividends.
#3.) Low interest rates and disinflation are shrinking the available pool of income generating assets. As I pointed out above, when trillions of dollars are getting thrown into negative yielding investments, many investors are flocking to alternative income-generating assets…like dividend paying stocks.
The Power of Dividends (Case Studies)
Most people don't realize it, but over the last 100 years, dividends have accounted for approximately 40% of stocks' total return as measured by the S&P 500. In other words, using history as a guide, if you initially invested in a stock XYZ at $100 that appreciated in value to $160 (+60%) 10 years later, that stock on average would have supplied an incremental $40 in dividends (40%) over that period, creating a total return of 100%.
Rather than using a hypothetical example, here are a few stock specific illustrations that highlight the amazing power of compounding dividend growth rates. Here are two "Dividend Aristocrats" (stocks that have increased dividends for at least 25 consecutive years):
- PepsiCo Inc (NYSE:PEP): PepsiCo has increased its dividend for an astonishing 44 consecutive years. Today, the dividend yield is 2.9% based on the current share price. But had you purchased the stock in June 1972 for $1.60 per share (split-adjusted), you would currently be earning a +188% dividend yield ($3.01 dividend / $1.60 purchase price), which doesn't even account for the +6,460% increase in the share price ($104.96 per share today from $1.60 in 1972). Over that 44 year period, the split-adjusted dividend has increased from about $0.02 per share to an annualized $3.01 dividend per share today, which equates to a mind-blowing +16,153% increase. On top of the $103 price appreciation, assuming a conservative 5% dividend reinvestment rate, my estimates show investors would have received more than $60 in reinvested dividends, making the total return that much more gargantuan.
- Emerson Electric Co (NYSE:EMR): Emerson Electric too has had an even more incredible streak of dividend increases, which has now extended for 59 consecutive years. Emerson currently yields a respectable 3.6% rate, but if you purchased the stock in June 1972 for $3.73 per share (split-adjusted), you would currently be earning a +51% dividend yield ($1.92 dividend / $3.73 purchase price), which doesn't even consider the +1,423% increase in the share price ($53.31 per share today from $3.73 in 1972).
There is never a shortage of FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt), which has kept stock prices flat as a pancake over the last couple of years, but market leading franchise companies with stable/increasing dividends do not disappear during challenging times. Record profits (ex-energy), demographics, and a scarcity of income-generating investment alternatives are all contributing factors to the increased appetite for dividends. If you want to sweeten those flat pancakes, do yourself a favor and pour some quality dividend syrup over your investment portfolio.
DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions in certain exchange traded funds (ETFs) and PEP, but at the time of publishing had no direct position in EMR or any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC Contact page.