Looking at total rate of return rather than yield alone

Yield is essentially the income an investment will pay, such as interest or dividend payments, and is normally expressed as a percentage.

Yield will fluctuate on equity investments based on the current share price. Typically, as the share price goes up, the yield goes down. On the flip side, as the share price goes down, the yield goes up.

The board of directors of a company makes the decision with respect to the dividend(s) the company will declare. This is normally stated as a dollar amount. Using ABC Bank as an example, the share price of the bank is currently at $80 per share. The board of directors would like the annual yield to be approximately four per cent. The board declares a dividend of $0.80 per share for the current quarter. If this dividend was kept the same for the next three quarters, the annual distribution would be $3.20 per share owned. Assuming the share price stays the same, the annual yield would be four per cent ($3.20 / $80).

The board of directors can choose to increase the dividend, and this is often done when the stock price appreciates. If the share price for ABC Bank increased to $100 per share, the yield would drop to 3.2 per cent ($3.20 / $100). The board of directors would have to begin declaring a quarterly dividend of $1 per share to maintain a four per cent annual yield based on shares valued at $100.

It is always nice when your investments will return dividends to you. The dividends are normally only part of the equation when looking at the holdings for your account. The change in the share price is also another important part to every investment. An investment that just pays income, with little hope of capital appreciation, would typically be classified as an “income” investment. An investment that does not pay a dividend, would typically be classified as a “growth” investment. The rate of return on a growth investment, that does not pay a dividend, would be 100 per cent determined by the change in the share price.

Many companies would be considered “balanced,” meaning that they would pay some form of dividend and also have an expectation of share price appreciation. As an example, three companies all make the same level of income in a given year, say six per cent. The first company chooses to pay a six per cent dividend to shareholders. The second company chooses to pay a three per cent dividend to shareholders and retain three per cent. The third company chooses to not pay a dividend and retain the full six per cent. When a company does not pay out some, or all, of its earnings, the share price would normally appreciate in value. Of course, many other factors influence the share price.

In the above example, we would anticipate that the share price for the third company would increase greater than the first company. Total return on an equity investment is the sum of the dividend plus the change in the market value of the shares.

Capital deployment

One of the many important components for us when we are analyzing new companies to add to the model portfolios is deployment of capital. As a portfolio manager, we are always assessing management and how they deploy capital that they are not distributing. If a company distributes all of its earnings, it is not necessarily building up extra capital. Investors will receive the dividends and it is up to the individual investors to ensure those returns are reinvested for continual growth.

Income needs

Retirees often require regular income from their portfolio. If we are sending monthly amounts to clients, this is often referred to as a Systematic Withdrawal Plan. The natural tendency when income is needed is to look at only stocks that pay a high level of dividends. Within our clients’ Investment Policy Statement, we outline the cash-flow needs that they have for the next two to three years. In the majority of cases, we create a one to two year wedge, the portion of the portfolio that is not in any equity (dividend or no dividend) — it is set aside in a cash-equivalent type investment that will not be impacted by changes in the stock market. We refer to this as a wedge. When a wedge is created, it takes the pressure off of a portfolio to create dividends to replenish cash. The focus can then shift to ensure you pick the best risk adjusted total rate of return group of investments. Some of those investments will pay large dividends, some smaller dividends and some no dividends.

Fixating on yield

I have had many conversations with clients about the danger of being fixated on yield. Occasionally, I will have someone ask me about some “high yielding” names that are paying very high dividends. In some cases, we will see that the companies are distributing more than they are actually earning which is not sustainable. In other cases, we see people being caught in the “income trap” and not factoring in the capital cost of the investment. As an example, you purchase 1,000 shares at $10 per share of High Yield Company totalling $10,000. You purchased this company because you read in the paper it is paying a six per cent dividend. If after a year the share price drops to $9.40 then the market value of this company would only be $9,400. The dividend of $600 would be taxable despite you really not making any real return if you were to liquidate at the end of the year. Essentially, a high yield is only part of the equation. An equally important component, if not more important, is the base amount invested in each company.

Universe of investments

If an investor focuses only on higher dividend paying stocks, much of the investment universe would be excluded as an option. Many dividend paying stocks are interest rate sensitive. Many sectors such as technology and certain communication stocks are known to have either no yield or low yields. Adding a mixture of income and growth investments reduces risk in a portfolio and should help smooth out volatility in the long run.

Kevin Greenard CPA CA FMA CFP CIM is a portfolio manager and director of wealth management with The Greenard Group at Scotia Wealth Management in Victoria. His column appears every week in the Times Colonist. Call 250-389-2138.