Lonsec   ⟩   Articles   ⟩   Industry Retirement Insights   ⟩   20 lessons from 20 years: #4 Dividends are key

AuthorInvestors Mutual Limited

DateAugust 10, 2018

CategoryIndustry Retirement Insights, News

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I have learnt over my many years of investing that there are three reasons why dividends are key for investors:

1. Dividends are an important part of the return of an equity portfolio

2. The level of dividends is not impacted by the level of the sharemarket

3. The dividend yield on stocks can act as a ‘safety net’ in times of volatility

Dividends are an important part of the return

Over the long term, returns from an equity portfolio come from 2 sources – the capital appreciation from the shares held in the portfolio as well as the dividends received.
When one analyses the returns of these two components from the Australian sharemarket (the ASX 300) over the last 20 and 40 years the results are as follows:

Source: Calculated using IRESS data indices 31 December 1979 – 30 June 2018

As can be seen from the table above around half of the returns from the Australian sharemarket in the last 20 and 40 years have come from dividends – emphasising how important the dividends received from one’s portfolios are to the total return received from that an equity portfolio over time.

As can be seen from the table above around half of the returns from the Australian sharemarket in the last 20 and 40 years have come from dividends – emphasising how important the dividends received from one’s portfolios are to the total return received from that an equity portfolio over time.

The level of dividends received are not impacted by the level of the sharemarket

While the level of capital returns from an equity portfolio over any period depends on the movement in the share prices, the level of dividends received by an investor from an equity portfolio is dependent on the performance of the underlying companies’ earnings. The level of dividends and the dividend payout ratio of any company is set by the Board of the company and is generally a reflection of the overall profitability of a company – independent of its share price.

This is an important point to remember as it means that in negative periods in the sharemarket, an investor’s level of dividends from a diversified portfolio – if made up of quality companies with the right attributes – should not vary greatly from year to year and is largely irrelevant of what is happening on the overall sharemarket.

The chart below demonstrates this by comparing the volatility of the level of capital return to the level of dividend from the ASX 300 over the last 20 years.

Chart 1: volatility of returns of capital and income of the ASX 300 over 20 years

Source: IML, S&P ASX300 31/03/1998 – 30/06/2018

As can be seen from the chart above while the level of capital returns’ volatility has been quite high over the last 20 years – not surprisingly perhaps as it contains periods such as the tech boom and bust and the GFC and Eurozone crisis – the volatility of the dividends received by an investor from the ASX 300 has been very low – depicting the steadiness of dividends and this part of an investor’s returns.

The movement in the sharemarket particularly over shorter time periods of 6 to 12 months is more often than not dictated by the mood of investors. The mood of investors is impacted by things such as the predictions for future level of economic activity, inflation and interest rates as well as perceptions of geopolitical stability.

Often with hindsight what are quite minor events from an economic standpoint can cause the mood of investors to sour markedly and lead to large declines in the sharemarket. For example, Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1991 led to all sorts of gloomy predictions about an impending global recession by many market analysts and economists.

Times of a perceived crisis can cause many investors to panic, and the prices of most shares can fall heavily initially as many investors/traders reduce their overall level of sharemarket exposure by rapidly selling shares indiscriminately and independent of their quality. What I have observed over the many years of investing is that once the panic subsides and some sort of normality is restored, those companies with sustainable earnings that can support a healthy dividend stream are often the shares that recover the quickest.

The reason for this is fairly obvious – rational long-term investors are always attracted to companies that pay a healthy dividend from a sustainable earnings stream as they understand that the level of returns from dividends is not dependent on future share price performance.

In other words, once shares in quality companies fall to a level where the dividend yield is attractive, this attracts long-term investors to start buying these shares as they ‘lock in’ the attractive dividend yield, despite a volatile sharemarket.

Concluding remarks
The lesson for investors is to always remember the importance of dividends when investing in the sharemarket. Dividends provide sharemarket investors not only with a consistent part of their total return but can also act as a ‘safety net’ in down trending markets. Dividends also provide investors with a relatively stable part of returns through the delivery of real cash flow, irrespective of the sharemarket cycle.

As a bottom-up value manager, fundamentals are crucial to deciding which companies are included in IML’s portfolios – mainly the quality and transparency of the earnings, cash flow generation, gearing levels or balance sheet strength – which ultimately is what is important in the level of dividends paid by companies to investors.

While the information contained in this article has been prepared with all reasonable care, Investors Mutual Limited (AFSL 229988) accepts no responsibility or liability for any errors, omissions or misstatements however caused. This information is not personal advice. This advice is general in nature and has been prepared without taking account of your objectives, financial situation or needs. The fact that shares in a particular company may have been mentioned should not be interpreted as a recommendation to buy, sell or hold that stock.

 

Anton Tagliaferro, Investors Mutual Limited

For more information contact:

Gordon Toy
03 9623 6373
Gordon.Toy@lonsec.com.au

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