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Monday, March 10, 2008

Neglecting Dividend-Paying Companies Hurts Investor Returns

Many people who began investing during the tech craze of the 1990s were taught to ignore dividends. The logic was that company managers who couldn’t adequately reinvest in their own business for growth were probably a bad risk for any investment dollars.

Warren Buffett famously has never paid a dividend at Berkshire Hathaway because he wants to reinvest every dollar of free cash flow himself.

But neglecting dividend-paying companies hurts investor returns.

At the turn of the century, and with the change of tax treatment on dividends, money began pouring back into firms that paid dividends. (A prominent feature of the much-maligned Bush tax cuts included tax-code changes that dropped the rate for dividends from high ordinary income levels – 35% in the top bracket – to a maximum of 15%.)

Bernstein Global Wealth Management prepared the amazing chart below, which demonstrates the power of dividends over the long term.

The Bernstein study concluded, “It should therefore come as no surprise that dividends have been a major component of growth in an investor’s return over time.
Remember, calculations of a stock’s performance in a portfolio are based on total return, i.e., the annual price appreciation (or loss) plus dividends.”

One dollar in 1926 (when market data first became reliable) invested in large-cap U.S. stocks would have grown to nearly $2,300 by 2004. But the Bernstein report shows that if you remove dividends – and the magical effect of compounding those dividends – then that same dollar would be worth a meager $87.66.

A similar study by Standard & Poor’s showed the same results over a different time horizon. The study of total returns (price appreciation plus dividend income) shows that payers of dividends outdistanced non-payers by 1.9% annually from 1980 through 2003.

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