Outlook for global dividend stocks highly positive

July 09, 2021 10:03
The favorable post-Covid dividend environment is characterised by steady recovery and resilience.  Photo: Reuters

It’s understandable that many investors have a strong appetite for yield because we are in a market environment where yield is still very scarce and likely to remain so for some time. Bond yields have been falling for the past 30 years ¬– in 1995, the average index yield on an investment grade bond index would have been close to 8%. But today, investment grade bonds are paying little more than 1%.

Indeed, some experts believe that with bond yields so low, the traditional portfolio split of 60% equities and 40% bonds can’t deliver for investors any more. This means that dividend-paying equities can now play a far more important role within portfolios in generating yield. Certainly, the risk profile of equities is generally higher than that of bonds, but it is worth remembering that the potential for capital appreciation is greater. For income investors who are currently stacked with bonds, adding dividend-paying equities provides diversification benefits and also the potential to enhance the risk and return profile of their portfolios.

The good news for dividend seekers is that, despite the events of 2020, the market continues to be abundant in dividend. In fact, The value of dividends paid out by companies in the MSCI AC World Index totalled almost USD1.1 trillion in the 12 months to end March 2021 , so the availability of dividends has been surprisingly resilient. In the US, for example, the total dividends paid in 2020 were virtually unchanged when compared to 2019. Looking ahead, Asian (ex-Japan) dividends are expected to remain robust next year, likely to be more than 25% ahead of the 2018 levels. In Europe and the UK last year, we saw regulators impose caps or bans on dividends in the banking sector. Although this created headlines, it did not necessarily reflect the ability of banks to pay a dividend, but was rather an action based on an abundance of caution. As the global economy has moved into a recovery phase, regulators have started to relax restrictions on dividends.

We believe the post-Covid dividend environment is a positive one, characterised by steady recovery and resilience. This favourable outlook is driven by factors including the low interest rate environment, unprecedented fiscal support benefitting households, businesses and infrastructure, and an improving fundamental backdrop as evidenced by a solid earnings outlook and a fast-recovering global economy. The cyclical growth recovery (especially in the developed world and China) complements long-term structural growth trends such as evolving applications for new technology and decarbonisation. The quick-fire development of vaccines in 2020, and their rollout in 2021, has also provided a boost to sentiment and the overall outlook for earnings and dividends. In fact, dividend increases have been gaining momentum, especially in key markets like the US. The number of companies increasing dividends far outnumbers those that have reduced payouts. There has also been a pick-up in share buybacks. This points to the confidence that companies have in rewarding shareholders, and bodes well for the dividend outlook.

So, where do we find strong dividends? Looking at the cash piles available on a sector-by-sector basis, we believe that technology, the consumer sectors, communication, healthcare, industrials and financials are relatively well placed to generate dividends. We also aim to identify the steady dividend payers with strong fundamentals in sectors such as energy and materials. Given the current broad base of economic recovery, the companies that stand to benefit will also be diverse by sector.

In general, we believe value should outperform growth during a period of inflation. We consider financials and energy to be value and we see commodities and infrastructure benefitting from inflationary pressures. Tech may underperform if inflation increases, so too could consumer staples and insurance.

While value style investing has enjoyed a boost since the end of 2020, MSCI ACWI Growth Index has outperformed MSCI ACWI Value Index by about 5.5% over the last month. Over the long term we believe that owning companies that are exposed to structural growth will do well regardless of the value vs growth regime. A balanced portfolio of value and growth stocks can provide exposure to cyclical and structural growth forces.

Inflation is certainly a real consideration. Currently, a combination of high savings rates, pent-up demand, a double-digit increase in the money supply, plus record fiscal stimulus and the vaccine rollout will lead to a sharp economic recovery. Strong demand for products will lead to higher inflation and there are few historical guideposts for this type of environment. The biggest risks to equities currently are not necessarily related to their fundamentals, but instead to interest rate movements.

While we think that inflation will increase in the short-term, we envisage a temporary increase as deflationary forces such as ageing populations and efficiency gains from technology will continue to have an effect. Nevertheless, while closely monitoring the macro environment, we should always invest based on the fundamentals of the underlying companies.

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Fund manager, global dynamic dividend strategy at Aberdeen Standard Investments