Why Dividends Matter

I’m old school, and I like my dividends.

Yes, I know. I’m being hopelessly stodgy. Dividends are almost inconsequential these days compared to the returns realized from rising stock prices. Since bottoming out in early 2009, the S&P 500 has exploded higher at a compound annual growth rate of over 15% per year and is up over 300% cumulatively.

What’s a couple of percent in dividends when you’re looking at those kinds of capital gains?

Furthermore, very few sexy, high-growth tech companies pay dividends. Amazon, Facebook, and Alphabet (Google) certainly don’t, and none have immediate plans to start.

But it’s important to keep a few things in mind. To start, the 15% annualized returns we’ve seen over the past decade in the S&P 500 are by no means normal. The long-term term historical average is closer to 10%.

And mean reversion being what it is, having a long period of above-average returns means we need to have a long stretch of lower-than-normal returns to get us back to the long-term average.

Not even the glassiest-eyed permabull seriously believes returns of 15% per year can continue forever.

Let’s slice the numbers a little differently.

The returns you achieve are ultimately a product of the price you pay. When you buy them cheaply, you put yourself in position to enjoy higher-than-average returns. When you overpay, you set yourself up to be disappointed.

Well, the S&P 500 currently trades at a cyclically adjusted price/earnings ratio of 29.9. That implies it is priced to deliver losses of about 2% per year over the next eight years, assuming the market returns to its long-term average valuation.

Now, maybe we get lucky and valuations remain at historically elevated levels. Hey, stranger things have happened, and there might have even been a legitimate justification for it in lower interest rates and stricter accounting standards.

But even assuming valuations remain 25% to 50% higher than their long-term averages, we’d still be looking at returns in the ballpark of just 1% to 3% per year.

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Disclaimer: This material is provided for informational purposes only, as of the date hereof, and is subject to change without notice. This material may not be suitable for all investors and is not ...

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