Unexpectedly Intriguing!
January 8, 2020
Washington Evening Star - 3 December 1936 - Page C-4

Dividend paying firms in the U.S. stock market closed out 2019 on a muted note, with the fourth quarter seeing both fewer dividend rises and fewer dividend cuts. Not uncoincidentally, the same can be said of 2019 as a whole.

Here's our tally of dividend metadata for 2019-Q4, where we've compared the fourth quarter's figures to both the preceding quarter, 2019-Q3, and to the year-ago-quarter of 2018-Q4:

  • A total of 5,106 U.S. firms declared dividends in December 2019, an increase of 1,733 over the 3,373 recorded in November 2019. That figure is also 828 lower than what was recorded a year ago in December 2018.
  • 135 U.S. firms announced they would pay a special (or extra) dividend to their shareholders in December 2019, an increase of 58 over the number recorded in November 2019 and 44 lower than what was recorded a year ago in December 2018.
  • 126 U.S. firms announced they would boost cash dividend payments to shareholders in December 2019, a decrease of 24 from the 150 recorded in November 2019, and a decrease of 12 from the 138 dividend rises declared back in December 2018.
  • A total of 26 publicly traded companies cut their dividends in December 2019, an increase of 2 over the number recorded in November 2019 and also a decrease of 14 from the 40 recorded in December 2018.
  • 1 U.S. firm omitted paying their dividends in December 2019, a decrease of 3 from the number recorded in November 2019. That figure is also the same as the total recorded in December 2018.

And since we're covering the end of the year, here is how the number of dividend increases and decreases compares between this year and last.

  • There were 1,808 announced dividend rises during 2019, down from the 2,118 announced in 2018.
  • U.S. firms announced 309 dividend reductions in 2019, down from the 366 declared in 2018.
  • A total of 29 dividend declarations in 2019 involved firms omitting dividend payments to their shareholders, down from 37 such announcements in the previous year.

The following chart shows the monthly total of dividend rises and reductions from January 2004 through December 2019.

Number of Public U.S. Firms Increasing or Decreasing Their Dividends Each Month, January 2004 through December 2019

With the number of dividend increases down quarter-over-quarter and year-over-year, suggesting an overall negative environment for investors, in truth the fourth quarter of 2019 ended on a mixed note, as the both the number of dividend cuts fell and the relative magnitude of net dividend increases rose compared to the year-ago quarter of 2018-Q4:

S&P Dow Jones Indices today announced that indicated dividend net increases (increases less decreases) for U.S. domestic common stocks were $10.6 billion during Q4 2019, up 44.2% from Q4 2018's $7.4 billion increase.

For Q4 2019, aggregate increases amounted to $11.97 billion, up 1.0%, from Q4 2018's $11.85 billion. Aggregate dividend cuts, however, decreased 69.9% to $1.35 billion from $4.48 billion for Q4 2018, a period which included the $3.82 billion General Electric dividend cut.

For the year ending 2019, net dividends rose $45.4 billion, compared to a gain of $58.4 billion for 2018, as increases were $56.6 billion versus $66.5 billion, and decreases were $11.1 billion compared to $8.1 billion for the prior period.

Focusing on the companies that announced dividend cuts during 2019-Q4, we find our near-real time sampling during the quarter mainly consists of firms in the U.S. oil and gas production sector (24), followed by financial firms and Real Estate Investment Trusts (9), manufacturing (2), mining (2), media (2), and finally (1) firm each from the chemical, services, consumer goods, and restaurant industries. Here's the list we compiled from Seeking Alpha and the Wall Street Journal, starting with the firms that set their dividends independently of their earnings and cash flow:

And here's the rest of the list, which is made up of firms that pay variable dividends, often as a percentage of their earnings. This portion of the list contains a number of firms that pay monthly dividends, where firms may show up more than once in the tally:

This portion of the list also contains a large percentage of firms from the oil and gas industry whose dividend payouts are very sensitive to changes in oil prices, where falling prices (and revenues) can indicate distressing conditions within the sector, where these firms are much like the proverbial canaries in a coal mine.

The following chart shows how the cumulative number of dividend cuts for all the firms we tracked in our near-real time sampling played out during 2019.

Cumulative Number of Dividend Cuts by Day of Quarter, 2019 (Final)

Going just by dividend cuts, 2019 was a relatively healthy year for the dividend-paying firms of the U.S. stock market. 2019-Q1 edged out 2019-Q2 as the least well-off quarter of the year, while 2019-Q3 was the best quarter of the year by a wide margin.

Looking forward, the manufacturing sector may be the one to pay the closest attention to in 2020, where the automotive industry within the sector will likely see 2019's global economic slowdown catch up to them, with U.S. Steel's dividend cut in 2019-Q4 perhaps being the first supporting industry domino to fall and where Boeing's continuing production problems with the 737-MAX commercial transport aircraft likely to take a bite out of the aerospace industry.

References

Standard and Poor. S&P Market Attributes Web File. [Excel Spreadsheet]. 31 December 2019. Accessed 2 January 2020.

If you're wondering about the image featured at the top of this post, we thought it would be fun to feature the excerpt from a vintage ad in this post. That may be because we've recently rewatched Trading Places, where an investment in Frozen Concentrated Orange Juice plays a meaningful role in the plot of the 1983 movie. In any case, the image credit belongs to Washington D.C.'s defunct Evening Star newspaper from 3 December 1936, where the ad appeared on page C-4. The source is the Library of Congress' Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers archive.

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