Did Stock Dividends and Buybacks Collapse in the Crisis?
There are two main methods of how companies pay out part of their earnings to investors. Despite the incredible economic crisis in 2020, the dividend payments and share buybacks on the American stock market stayed on high levels. Total dividends rose slightly, and total buybacks fell approximately 30 percent.
Dividend payments are not the focus of most investors today. Many new stars like Tesla, Zoom, Nio, and other tech-stocks do not pay any dividends. Other tech-giants are in an advanced stage like Apple, paying out billions every year. Netflix is thinking about payouts. One of the good news last week was a future share repurchasing program of the streaming provider.
Dividends payments rose 0.7% to $58.28 per share from the previous record set in 2019, according to S&P Global. For 2021, analysts see dividend payments setting its 10th consecutive record year, up 4.2% over 2020. (5.9% without Tesla). Given U.S. interest rates and Treasury yields near record lows, robust dividends is another factor boosting the allure of stocks for yield-starved investors. (Reuters)
Are Stocks Too Expensive?
But dividends seem always too low if the share price tumbles. Many stocks look overvalued by fundamental indicators. Most investors think we are in bubble territory. For example, in this commentary, referring also to the dotcom-bubble:
What were investors thinking 20 years ago not only paying 10 times revenues for Sun Microsystems but also paying that ridiculous multiple for 44 other stocks in the S&P 500 Index? Nearly 60 of the S&P 500 Index components currently trade more than 10 times revenues. Greater fool theory? (Investing.com, Jesse Felder)
Stock Dividends and Buybacks for 1 Trillion
The total market cap of all the S&P 500 index members was 33,388 trillion dollars at the end of 2020, by the official fact sheet. By data of Goldman Sachs in 2020, the companies paid $508.6 billion in dividends and $524 billion in stock buybacks. Altogether, 1032.6 billion, or 1.03 trillion. That means approximately 3.1 percent of the market capitalization. It is like a 3.1 percent investment return p. a.
The 10-year Treasury yield in the US reached 1.086 percent, and the 30-year one, 1.847 on Friday. But if you buy a long-term bond and hold it, your yield is fixed. Share dividends and buybacks, however, will most likely increase in the long term.
Goldman Sachs expects dividends paid out by S&P 500 companies to increase by about 5% in 2021 to $534 billion. The company says that next year should also be better for buybacks, which took an even bigger hit this year as companies tried to preserve capital. Goldman expects S&P 500 share repurchases to total $602 billion in 2021, up 15% from $524 billion this year. But still well below the 2019s level of about $750 billion. (Marketwatch)
Dividend Aristocrats Are Lagging
But dividend–, and buyback-stocks lag the S&P 500 index during the past year. As shown in the chart, the ETF following the S&P 500 index outperformed the others filled with high-dividend stocks. (Also stocks with significant share repurchase activity.) One of the main reasons is that the S&P 500 index was also driven primarily by the technology sector in 2020.
The high-dividend-paying shares, many of them “value stocks”, underperformed last year. (For example, energy companies, banks.) The big question is when the phenomenon known as rotation occurs. (A turning point in the relative performance of growth and value stocks.) When will value-stocks end the historical underperformance and outperform again?
Why Stock Dividends and Buybacks May Increase?
Inflation is coming–are warning us many analysts. Inflation expectations may be the reason for some commodity market movements. Real-assets (gold, commodities, real estate, etc.) are in high demand in the markets. Stocks are not a real asset, in theory, but can protect you from inflation, too.
That does not mean stock markets can not have a steep correction or even longer decline tomorrow. But the longer bullish trend in the stock market, which began in 2009, may continue for some years. Except, if the crisis deepens unexpectedly and earnings, dividends, and share buybacks of companies vanish. But chances are economic growth comes back in the second half of 2021. As most people get immunized and governments, central banks remain supportive. Perhaps too supportive.
A significant rate hike in the next few years is unlikely. Central banks can keep interest rates low for a very long time to avoid a debt crisis. And governments, especially leftists, will feel obligated to save most companies, sectors, protect jobs or the unemployed.
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