Unexpectedly Intriguing!
September 26, 2018

Dividend futures provide a lot of valuable information about what investors anticipate for their investments in the stock market. In a sense, they are the best available quantification of investor expectations for the future, where changes in their level are ultimately reflected in today's stock prices.

Consequently, we pay a lot of attention to dividend futures for the S&P 500, where we've found the CME Group's futures data for the S&P 500's Quarterly Dividends per Share and the S&P 500's Annual Dividends per Share to be a valuable resource.

We're writing today because we've reached an interesting point in 2018, where there's a discrepancy between the CME Group's quarterly dividend per share futures data and its annual dividends per share futures data for the S&P 500. The following chart illustrates what we're seeing in the data as of 21 September 2018, the expiration date [1] for the futures contract period covering the third quarter of 2018 (2018-Q3).

Expected Quarterly and Annual S&P 500 Dividends per Share for 2018

With the dividend futures contracts for the first three quarters having expired, the cumulative total of the S&P 500's dividends per share for 2018 to date is $39.90 per share, based on the values for these periods that we recorded on the day the dividend futures contracts associated with them expired. As of 24 September 2018, the CME Group's quarterly dividend futures is indicating that the S&P 500's dividend payout for 2018-Q4 will be $13.95 per share, which would bring the index' total dividends for 2018 up to $53.85 per share.

But, the CME Group's futures data for the S&P 500's annual dividends per share is projected to be $54.20 for 2018. With $39.90 of that total already on the books, that implies that the S&P 500's dividend payout for 2018-Q4 will be $14.30 per share, about 2.5% higher than what the CME Group's quarterly dividend futures for 2018-Q4 are indicating.

Granted, that's not a large amount, but the important thing to consider is that one of the these numbers is wrong. And when numbers tied to futures contracts like these are wrong, some sharp investor has an opportunity to make money. The question now is how should that sharp investor take advantage of the disparity between these two expectations for what the S&P 500's dividends per share will be in 2018-Q4?

Notes

[1] Dividend futures contracts run from the end of the third Friday of the month preceding the indicated period they cover through the third Friday of the month ending their indicated period of coverage, where they will indicate the amount of dividends expected to be paid out during this interval. For example, the dividend futures contract for 2018-Q1 ran from the end of Friday, 15 December 2017 through 16 March 2018, while the dividend futures contract for 2018 covers the period from the end of Friday, 15 December 2017 through 21 December 2018.

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