September 5, 2019
INVESTORS TEND TO FOLLOW the ups and downs of the stock market closely, watching—and hoping—for price gains. But many overlook another potential source of returns: the dividends that many companies can pay their shareholders.
Investors should always look at both price gains and dividend income when considering their total return, says Nick Giorgi, an investment strategist in the Chief Investment Office for Merrill and Bank of America Private Bank. But there are a couple of other reasons that make dividend-paying stocks particularly useful today. First, the income they provide can help to balance losses during volatility. And in low-interest-rate environments, they can potentially offer a higher yield than Treasurys or CDs.
Below, Giorgi offers more insights into the role that dividend-paying stocks could play in your portfolio.
Dividends represent a payment by a company, typically made on a quarterly basis, to its shareholders from income generated by the business. “Generally, it’s larger, more mature companies that return capital to their shareholders in the form of dividends,” Giorgi says. Smaller and growing companies tend to reinvest earnings back into their business.
There are two key roles that dividend-paying investments can play: Providing investors with income to help meet immediate cash needs—something that retirees might increasingly look to them for, particularly in low-interest-rate environments—and offering potential downside defense during market sell-offs. “Companies that have consistently increased their dividends tend to be well-run businesses, which historically have weathered downturns and may have greater return potential over time1,” Giorgi says.
Absolutely. Some offer a higher dividend, while others issue smaller dividends that may tend to grow steadily. “One mistake to avoid,” Giorgi says, “is to buy a company’s stock simply because it issues a high dividend.” If the company has leveraged excessive debt to fund the dividend, it could come at the expense of future profitability and hurt growth prospects. Or a company may seem to offer a high dividend yield simply because it recently experienced a price decline. “Always take into account prospects for both growth and income and how they align with your particular needs and goals,” Giorgi notes.
If your goal is creating an income stream, you might simply look for stocks with above-average dividend yields over a longer time period, says Giorgi. But if you’re a growth-oriented investor who isn’t looking for immediate income, consider investing in stocks that have a track record of increasing their dividends as cash flows and profits increase.
Beyond individual stocks, there are numerous exchange traded funds, index funds and mutual funds to explore. Some emphasize dividend yield; others focus on dividend growth or offer a mix of both. Still others focus on global stocks, which can provide further diversification. Many international equity indexes potentially offer higher dividend yields than U.S. indexes.“Work with your advisor to tailor your strategy to your individual needs, considering your short- and long-term goals and time horizon, as well as your risk tolerance and liquidity needs,” Giorgi says.
Dividend payments are not guaranteed. The amount of a dividend payment, if any, can vary over time.
Opinions are those of the author and subject to change. The investments or strategies presented do not take into account the investment objectives or financial needs of particular investors. It is important that you consider this information in the context of your personal risk tolerance and investment goals. Due to the time-sensitive nature of the content and because investment opinions may have changed since the time any comments were made by research analysts, the latest Merrill investment opinion and investment risk rating for any particular security discussed should be reviewed, including important disclosures, before making an investment decision.
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