In our Investing series, there is something we did not yet cover in details: dividends. A lot of companies in the stock market are paying dividends to their stockholders. That means that if you own a share of Coca-Cola, you will receive some cash four times a year, every quarter.
This is a nice way of accumulating cash since it does not require you to do anything. It is a fully passive income. You still need to buy the shares of course. But once it is done, you will get the money. There are many important things to know about these dividends and we are going to cover them in this post. If like me you are investing the entire market, you will get some dividends automatically :)
As mentioned before, some company pay a dividend to each holder of a share. The company is setting how much money they are giving away per share per year. For instance, one company could be giving 20 cents per share as a dividend each year. Most companies are paying dividends once per quarter. For the previous example, that means you would be receiving 5 cents every quarter.
There is no official schedule for dividends. Each company can do what they want. Most companies pay it on a quarterly basis. But some companies are paying it once a year and some other once a month. If you want this information, you need to look online or ask the company.
Some company can start to pay dividends at any moment. They can also stop paying dividends at any moment. It is the decision of the company to pay or not a dividend based on what they believe is the best for the company’s future. For instance, famous Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hataway paid a dividend only once in all their years! On the other hand, some companies have paid dividends for more than 50 years without interruption. In case of a strong bear market or a general recession, you may find that a lot of companies will cut their dividends.
Generally, the company will publish the dividend paid per share (DPS). However, this number alone is not really useful. What is really useful is the Dividend Yield. This can be easily calculated by dividing the dividend per share by the price (DPS / Price). For instance, if a stock is trading at 50 and they paid a dividend of 2 dollars per share, the yield is 4% (2 / 50 = 0.04 = 4%). This is the return (in dividends) you get by buying a share of this company.
Important Dividends Dates
There are several important dates for each dividend from a company:
- Declaration date: This is the date at which the company announces its intention to pay a dividend. It is not a very important date for investors. However, if you are a dividend investor this could be important. You need to keep track of the dividend increase of companies.
- Record date: It is the date the company is checking the records to gather the list of shareholders. It is the last day you can buy the share and still get a dividend. If you sell before this date, you will not get a dividend.
- Ex-Dividend Date: This is probably the most important date. Only holders that purchased shares before the ex-dividend date will receive the dividends. After this date, you can sell your stock and you will still receive the dividend on the payment date.
- Payment Date: This is the date at which you will receive your money.
If you are interested in dividends, you will likely hear the term dividend aristocrat. This term was used first to define the stocks from the S&P 500 index that increased the dividend they pay per share every year for at least 25 years. Now, it is also used for companies outside of the S&P 500 index.
These companies are generally safer bets than others. The steadily increase their dividend each year. Of course, it does not mean that they without risk. Many companies have been removed from the list during the 2008-2009 crisis because they decreased their dividends. And even a company with a very good history of dividends can go down.
In fact, some people are only investing in companies that pay a dividend. This investing strategy is called dividend investing. This is a form of value investing where some part of the value estimation is based on the dividends paid by the company. Although he does not only investing in dividend-paying stocks, Warren Buffet likes dividends a lot. He also invested several times in preferred stocks. The stocks get sometimes higher dividend and always get the dividends before the other stocks.
The easiest way to invest in dividends paying stocks is to choose a dividend stocks ETF. There are many of them already. For instance, I am using a Swiss dividend-paying fund for my home bias in my portfolio.
However, most dividend investors are investing themselves. That means they have to choose stocks themselves. Most dividend investors have between 20 and 50 stocks in their portfolio. You may think that it is as easy as taking the stocks with the highest dividend yield. But that it is not the case.
Some stocks have high dividend yield for bad reasons. For instance, they may want to attract investors while they are in bad financial shape. And some companies are paying more dividends than they earn money. And some stocks are selling higher than their valuation. All these reasons make dividend investing something that is not trivial. You need to collect a lot of information on the dividend paying company before you buy its stock. For instance, one of the things you want to consider is the Dividend Payout Ratio. It represents how much of the earnings are spent on the dividends. But there are many factors to consider.
I am not a pro of dividend investing. Also, I am not doing any dividend investing. There are many personal finance bloggers out there that invest in dividend stocks. If you want more details about it, you should take a look at their blogs. Here are a few I am following:
But there are many more out there. It is an investing trend currently. Just search Dividend Blog on Google and you will find more than you can read ;)
Problems with dividend investing
As with everything, not everything is great about dividend investing.
Normally when a company pays dividends, its stock price goes down by the same amount than the dividend paid. If you have a stock worth 100$ that just paid you 3$, the stock will go down to 97$. You still own 100$ as before. You have the advantage of having some cash at hand that you can reinvest. But your total investment remains the same. If the company would be able to grow faster by reinvesting the dividend in itself, you are losing on potential capital gains.
The earnings that are not distributed as dividends are reinvested into the company. This is a form of automatic compounding. What is interesting here is that most companies in the stock market trade at higher than their book value. That means that their shares are more valuable than their assets. For instance, let’s say the stock is traded at three times the book value. It means that one dollar reinvested in the company has more potential than one dollar of the distributed dividend. This is one of the reasons that Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hataway has not paid any dividend in the last fifty years.
Currently, there are a lot of dividend investors. It is a real trend. The issue with that is that it put a lot of pressure on the price of the dividend stocks. The price per earnings (P/E) of the most popular dividend stocks has skyrocketed. These stocks are now more expensive than the average in the stock market. Several early dividend investors have mostly stopped investing and are now holding cash for the next opportunities. Some of them started investing in other things such as Real Estate instead.
That is not to say that dividend investing is a bad thing. But before you are investing in dividend stocks, you need to be aware of the limitations of the method.
Dividends in Switzerland
Dividend investing is not very popular in Switzerland. Indeed, dividends are taxed as income while long-term capital gains are not taxed. That means that it is more efficient to rely on capital gains than on dividends. This is actually the contrary in many other countries. Indeed, in most countries, the capital gains are more taxed than dividends.
When you receive a dividend in Switzerland, your broker will withhold 35% of it for the tax office. If you declare them as income in your tax declaration, they will refund it. But this will increase your income. And increasing your income will increase your taxes. Therefore, your dividends will be taxed at your current marginal tax rate. This is why many people in Switzerland do not like to invest in dividend stocks.
We have covered the basics about dividends. These are regular payments that companies make to shareholders. They distribute some part of their earnings directly to the shareholders. Dividend investing is a very popular investing strategy. This made dividend-paying stocks more expensive than regular stocks.
I like receiving a dividend. It is some extra money as passive income. It feels good to receive this money. However, I am not investing mostly in dividend companies. For now, I am mostly investing in the entire market to have a good diversification. Even with this, I have a dividend yield of about 1.7%. It is not a great yield. But it still great passive income :)
What do you think about dividend investing? Did I forget anything?