Many investors view dividend payouts as a reliable source of income. However, those expecting to receive consistent dividend income may have been surprised to see lower-than-expected dividend payouts following the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, when both market volatility and market declines were extraordinary. In reality, recent and historical data show that changes in dividend policy are common, especially during times of higher uncertainty.
Aggregate dividend payouts fell meaningfully in the first three quarters of 2020 compared to the same period in 2019. Exhibit 1 shows the dividends earned from a hypothetical $1 million investment in US, developed ex US, and emerging markets in both periods. Developed ex US markets showed the most drastic change with a 41% decrease. Dividend payments in emerging markets decreased by 29% and in US markets by 22%.
EXHIBIT 1 – Drop Zone
Dividends from a Hypothetical $1 Million Investment
Past performance, including hypothetical performance, is no guarantee of future results.
Globally, large firms have historically had the highest propensity to offer dividend payouts,1 but even successful, established firms were not immune to the economic consequences of a global pandemic. A few examples help illustrate this point. Harley Davidson (HOG) has been paying dividends to shareholders since the 1990s. In April 2020, the motorcycle manufacturer slashed its dividend from $0.38 per share to just $0.02, a 95% decrease.2 Gap Inc. (GPS) suspended its dividend payments until at least April 20213 after the economic downturn left the clothing brand with particularly poor revenues.
Harley Davidson and Gap were not the only firms to change their dividend policies. As shown in Exhibit 2, 38% of firms in global markets (2,584 companies) that were expected to pay dividends, consistent with their payout history, instead decreased, omitted, or eliminated their dividend payments in the second quarter, more than doubling the 1,248 firms that made similar changes to their dividend policy in the first quarter of the year. The trend continued into the third quarter: 2,699 firms made such changes.
EXHIBIT 2 – Changing Tune
Dividend Policy Changes in Global Markets (% of Dividend-Paying Firms), 2020
While these dividend cuts may come as a surprise to some investors, history buffs may recall that, in 2009, Harley Davidson announced it was cutting dividend payouts from $0.33 per share to $0.10, a 70% decrease.4 In fact, during the Great Recession, significant changes to firms’ dividend policies spiked throughout global markets. Exhibit 3 displays Fama/French global market returns for 1991–2019 with a one-year lag and the proportion of dividend-paying firms that eliminated or decreased their dividend payouts. In 2008, for example, the global market was down more than 40%, and, the following year, many firms made changes to their dividend policies. The historical correlation between global market returns and dividends that are eliminated or decreased may suggest that firms are more likely to alter their dividend payouts during times of market instability.
EXHIBIT 3 – In Step
Global Market Returns and Dividend Changes
1. Stanley Black, “Global Dividend-Paying Stocks: A Recent History” (white paper, Dimensional Fund Advisors, March 2013).
2.Harley-Davidson, Inc., “Dividends & Stock Splits,” investor.harley-davidson.com/stock-info/dividends-and-stock-split.
3. Gap Inc., “Gap Inc. Provides Update In Response To Covid-19 Outbreak,” news release, March 26, 2020, investors.gapinc.com/press-releases/news-details/2020/GAP-INC-PROVIDES-UPDATE-IN-RESPONSE-TO-COVID-19-OUTBREAK/default.aspx
4. Harley-Davidson, Inc., “Dividends & Stock Splits.”
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Eugene Fama and Ken French are members of the Board of Directors of the general partner of, and provide consulting services to, DFAL and DIL.
This post was prepared and first distributed by Dimensional Fund Advisors.
Shore Point Advisors is registered as an investment adviser with the State of New Jersey. Shore Point Advisors only transacts business in states where it is properly registered, or is excluded or exempted from registration requirements. Past performance is not indicative of future returns. All investment strategies have the potential for profit or loss. There are no assurances that an investor’s portfolio will match or outperform any particular benchmark. Content was prepared by a third-party provider. All information is based on sources deemed reliable, but no warranty or guarantee is made as to its accuracy or completeness. All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the authors on the date of publication and are subject to change.
Let’s take a look at five of the most common financial adages and review why they are often much easier said than done.