Over the long term, dividend-paying stocks have traditionally played a stabilizing and return-additive role in an investor’s portfolio. Reinvesting these dividends back into the underlying stock has produced far better returns than most major indexes without reinvested dividends. Years ago, dividend producers were thought to be safer and less volatile than their growth stock counterparts. Slow but steady businesses historically have not required significant reinvestment, so excess cash flow was returned to shareholders as a dividend. However, in the market’s recent downturn, dividend stocks have not been safer or less volatile. Dividend payers (and other value stocks) have performed worse than high growth, momentum stocks — a surprisingly different result than the downturn in 2000, for example. In fact, as shown in this week’s chart, hundreds of corporations globally were forced to cancel their dividend payments in March.
What has contributed to the underperformance of value stocks and the high number of dividend cancellations? One reason is that the economy was forced to shut down in order to contain the spread of the coronavirus with business activity grinding to a halt. Many companies’ sales, earnings and cash flow declined as well. As earnings estimates were cut and/or eliminated, (estimated) dividend payout ratios soared. With significantly reduced cash flow and expected dividend payments ahead, most companies that did not have the balance sheet flexibility to withstand this (hopefully) short-term decline in business were forced to cut, suspend or eliminate their dividends. Globally, this led to a staggering number of cancellations in March and, unfortunately, holders of dividend-paying stocks paid the price.
The number of dividend cuts will likely continue to increase in the near term as companies assess the recent economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic on their businesses. This should keep dividend stock investors on their toes. However, there is a way for investors to combat the recent trend in dividend reductions, suspensions and eliminations. Focusing on companies with high-quality balance sheets — little to no debt relative to cash and sustainable free cash-flow generation — can provide an important buffer whenever the economy declines. This financial flexibility typically leads to maintainable dividends or at least the avoidance of dividend eliminations. Prudent management teams with a track record of responsible capital allocation will give their companies and shareholders a solid footing to help weather any storm.
The material provided here is for informational use only. The views expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Penn Mutual Asset Management.
This material is for informational use only. The views expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Penn Mutual Asset Management. This material is not intended to be relied upon as a forecast, research or investment advice, and it is not a recommendation, offer or solicitation to buy or sell any securities or to adopt any investment strategy.
Opinions and statements of financial market trends that are based on current market conditions constitute judgment of the author and are subject to change without notice. The information and opinions contained in this material are derived from sources deemed to be reliable but should not be assumed to be accurate or complete. Statements that reflect projections or expectations of future financial or economic performance of the markets may be considered forward-looking statements. Actual results may differ significantly. Any forecasts contained in this material are based on various estimates and assumptions, and there can be no assurance that such estimates or assumptions will prove accurate.
Investing involves risk, including possible loss of principal. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. All information referenced in preparation of this material has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable, but accuracy and completeness are not guaranteed. There is no representation or warranty as to the accuracy of the information and Penn Mutual Asset Management shall have no liability for decisions based upon such information.
High-Yield bonds are subject to greater fluctuations in value and risk of loss of income and principal. Investing in higher yielding, lower rated corporate bonds have a greater risk of price fluctuations and loss of principal and income than U.S. Treasury bonds and bills. Government securities offer a higher degree of safety and are guaranteed as to the timely payment of principal and interest if held to maturity.
All trademarks are the property of their respective owners. This material may not be reproduced in whole or in part in any form, or referred to in any other publication, without express written permission.