Important information: The value of investments and the income from them, can go down as well as up, so you may get back less than you invest.
Among the first financial consequences of the pandemic were deep cuts to dividends as companies rushed to bolster against the effects of Covid-19.
Now, more than a year after the disease struck, it’s possible to see the full extent of the damage to shareholder pay-outs. The latest Global Dividend Index for the first quarter of 2021, published by Janus Henderson, showed that dividends worth $247bn were cut between April 2020 and March 2021, a 14% underlying decline. Across all regions and sectors, one third (34%) of companies made reductions.
And yet, despite the billions forgone by shareholders, this represents a much less severe reduction than had been first expected. Although payouts were 2.9% lower in the first quarter of 2021 when compared to the same period a year ago, at $275.8bn, the decline was exaggerated by lower one-off special dividends in the US. On an underlying basis they were just 1.7% lower, the Global Dividend Index report confirmed.
It added: “In the context of the ongoing pandemic, such a small decline is an extraordinarily good result. Moreover, the decline was far more modest than in any of the preceding three quarters, all of which saw double-digit falls in payouts.”
The report went further, saying that dividends were now poised for a “clear revival” in 2021. Globally, just one company in five (18%) cut its dividend year-on-year in the first quarter, well below the one third over the last year overall. Those figures were helped a bit by the fact that the first quarter tends to be dominated by payments in the US, which have proved more resilient than in other regions, but Janus Henderson said that there was improvements in other markets as well.
The bounce-back in dividends is part of the wider recovery for economies since it became clear last year that vaccines would be able to greatly reduce the effects of the pandemic. Among the strongest growth came from mining dividends, based on the increased demand for commodities triggered by the end - or near-end - of lockdown restrictions. Utilities and pharmaceutical dividends also saw strong recoveries in payouts while banks, many of which were forced to cut their dividend, were also able to reinstate payments.
And none of this has been missed by investors, who are now ploughing back into dividend-paying companies. As reported in the Financial Times on 7 June, there were net inflows into global dividend funds in all but two weeks since the beginning of March, reversing months of mostly outflows according to data company EPFR.
The “Dividend Aristocrats” index, containing 65 S&P 500 companies that have increased their payout each year over the past 25 years, is up 16.8% so far in 2021, the newspaper said. That’s compared 12.4% for the overall S&P 500 index and the first time since 2018 that the aristocrats are beating the broader market.
After a period playing catch-up, the market’s dividend stalwarts could be due another day in the sun.
Fidelity’s Select 50 list features a number of equity income funds that specialise in finding companies that pay a stable and growing dividend. They include the actively managed Franklin UK Equity Income Fund, which benefits from a four-strong management team based in Leeds and has paid an historic yield above 4%, although this is not guaranteed. The Fidelity Global Dividend Fund has a wider investing remit and a flexibility to invest in sectors and industries underrepresented in the UK, including technology. As such, the Fund offers diversification benefits to investors with largely UK based portfolios.
See the full Select 50 list for all equity income options.
Important information: Investors should note that the views expressed may no longer be current and may have already been acted upon. Select 50 is not a personal recommendation to buy or sell a fund. Reference to specific securities should not be construed as a recommendation to buy or sell these securities and is included for the purposes of illustration only. Overseas investments will be affected by movements in currency exchange rates. Investments in emerging markets can be more volatile than other more developed markets. The Franklin UK Equity Income Fund invests in a relatively small number of companies and so may carry more risk than funds that are more diversified. The Fidelity Global Dividend Fund uses financial derivative instruments for investment purposes, which may expose the fund to a higher degree of risk and can cause investments to experience larger than average price fluctuations. The fund also uses currency hedging to substantially reduce the effect of currency exchange rate fluctuations on undesired currency exposures. There can be no assurance that the currency hedging employed will be successful. Hedging also has the effect of limiting the potential for currency gains to be made. This information is not a personal recommendation for any particular investment. If you are unsure about the suitability of an investment you should speak to a Fidelity adviser or an authorised financial adviser of your choice.
Share this article
Where next for Kingfisher shares as Screwfix-owner gives update?
Can the lockdown DIY frenzy sales boom persist in a re-opened world?
Stop worrying about a crash: the bull market has further to run
Should investors really worry about inflation, Covid and US tapering?