Dividend Floodgates Widen
The recently reported lackluster, monthly employment report made stockholders grumpy (as measured by the recent -168 point decline in the Dow Jones Industrial index) and bondholders ecstatic (as measured by the surge in the 10-year Treasury note price and plunge in yield to a meager 1.88% annual rate). Stocks on the other hand are yielding a much more attractive rate of approximately 7.70% based on 2012 earnings estimates (see chart below) and are also offering a dividend yield of about 2.25%.
In my view, either stock prices go higher and drive equity yields lower; bonds sell off and Treasury yields spike higher; or a combination of the two. Either way, there are not many compelling reasons to pile into Treasuries, although I fully understand some Treasuries are needed in many investors’ portfolios for income, diversification, and risk tolerance reasons.
Not only are equity earnings yields beating Treasury yields, but so are dividend yields. It has been a generation, or more than 50 years, since the last time stock dividends were yielding more than 10-year Treasuries (see chart below). If you invested in stocks back when dividend yields outpaced bond yields, and held onto your shares, you did pretty well in stocks (the Dow Jones Industrial index traded around 600 in 1960 and over 13,000 today).
The Dynamic Dividend Payers
The problem with bond payments (coupons), in most cases, is that they are static. I have never heard of a bond issuer sending a notice to a bond holder stating they wanted to increase the size of interest payments to their investors. On the flip side, stocks can and do increase payments to investors all the time. In fact here is a list of some of the longest paying dividend dynamos that have incredible dividend hike streaks:
• Procter & Gamble (PG – 55 consecutive years)
• Emerson Electric (EMR – 54 years)
• 3M Company (MMM – 53 years)
• The Coca-Cola Company (KO – 49 years)
• Johnson & Johnson (JNJ – 49 years)
• Colgate-Palmolive Company (CL – 48 years)
• Target Corporation (TGT – 43 years)
• PepsiCo Inc. (PEP – 39 years)
• Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT – 38 years)
• McDonald’s Corporation (MCD – 35 years)
This is obviously a small number of the long-term consecutive dividend hikers, but on a shorter term basis, more and more players are joining the dividend paying team. So far, in 2012 alone through April, there have been 152 companies in the S&P 500 index that have raised their dividend (a +11% increase over the same period a year ago). Of those 152 companies that increased the dividend this year, the average boost was more than +23%. Some notable names that have had significant dividend increases in 2012 include the following companies:
• Macy’s Inc. (M: +100% dividend increase)
• Mastercard Inc. (MA: +100%)
• Wells Fargo & Company (WFC: +83%)
• Comcast Corp. (CMCSA: +44%)
• Cisco Systems Inc. (CSCO: +33%)
• Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS: +31%)
• Freeport McMoran (FCX: +25%)
• Harley Davidson Inc. (HOG: +24%)
• Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM: +21%)
• JP Morgan Chase & Co. (JPM: +20%)
Lots of Dividend Headroom
The nervous mood of investors is not much different from the temperament of uneasy business executives, so companies have been slow to hire; unhurried to acquire; and deliberate with their expansion plans. Rather than aggressively spend, corporations have chosen to cut costs, hoard cash, grow earnings, buy back shares, and pay out ever increasing dividends from the trillions in cash piling up.
When a company on average is earning an 8% yield on their stock price, there is plenty of headroom to increase the dividend. As a matter of fact, a company paying a 2% yield could increase its dividend by 10% for about 15 consecutive years and still pay a quadrupling dividend with NO earnings growth. Simply put, there is a lot of room for companies to increase dividends further despite the floodgate of dividend increases we have experienced over the last few years. If you look at the chart below, the dividend yield is the lowest it has been in more than a century (1900).
Perhaps we will experience another “Summer Swoon” this year, but for those selective and patient investors that sniff out high-quality, dividend paying stocks, you will be getting “paid to wait” while the dividend floodgates continue to widen.
Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®
Plan. Invest. Prosper.
DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds (including Treasury bond ETFs), CMCSA and WMT, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in PG, EMR, MMM, KO, JNJ, CL, TGT, PEP, MCD, M, MA, WFC, CSCO, GS, FCX, HOG, XOM, JPM, 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.