As the coronavirus pandemic upended the economy, many companies have tightened their belts and reduced payouts to shareholders, cutting dividends for many stock and exchange traded fund investors.
While the Federal Reserve has enacted aggressive monetary policies that will likely keep rates lower for longer, many yield-hungry investors have turned to dividend stocks. For instance, the Vanguard Dividend Appreciation ETF (NYSEArca: VIG) attracted $3.0 billion in net inflows year-to-date while Schwab US Dividend Equity ETF (NYSEArca: SCHD) added $750 million, according to XTF data.
However, companies have suffered through severe cash flow problems after the government enacted strict lockdown measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus outbreak, with many enacting painful dividend cuts to shareholders, the Financial Times reports.
At least 67 constituents of the Russell 1000 index have suspended payouts, surpassing the number during the financial crisis, according to Morgan Stanley. Additionally, another 36 constituents of the Russell 1000 have cut dividend payments, but over 200 companies have also announced they will raise dividends.
“Most of those increases were announced before the US equity market peaked in February and are potentially at risk for cuts down the road,” Boris Lerner, an analyst at Morgan Stanley, told the FT.
Dividends paid by European companies could decline 30% this year and 15% for U.S. companies, according to Thomas Schuessler, manager of the DWS Top Dividend fund, the largest global equity income product sold in Europe. The fund is still down 10% this year despite recovering from its late March lows.
Schuessler argued that it is “not surprising” some companies are unable to pay dividends when coronavirus has crippled entire economies, but he is optimistic of a rebound.
“Dividends will come back with earnings when the economy recovers,” Schuessler added.
UBS, though, warned that companies could allocate less money for dividends in the future as many choose to focus on building more resilience to disruptions into businesses. Meanwhile, regulators could put more pressure on banks to support economic activity instead of paying shareholders. Governments could also hike corporate taxes to pay for the fiscal stimulus packages.
“Reinstating shareholder distributions may not be straightforward,” Victoria Kalb, a sustainability analyst at UBS, told the FT.
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