Unexpectedly Intriguing!
June 2, 2020

It came close, but the combined number of dividend cuts and suspensions announced by U.S. publicly-traded companies fell slightly short of the record levels recorded in April 2020.

The following chart shows the combined total of dividend reductions and omissions for each month from January 2004 through May 2020.

Number of Public U.S. Companies Cutting or Omitting Dividends, January 2004 - May 2020

Here's the rest of the U.S. stock market's dividend metadata for the month of May 2020. The best we can say about it is that it is not quite as bad as April 2020's metadata.

  • A total of 3,118 U.S. firms declared dividends in May 2020, an increase of 26 over the 3,092 recorded in April 2020. That figure is also 811 lower than what was recorded a year ago in May 2019.
  • 22 U.S. firms announced they would pay a special (or extra) dividend to their shareholders in May 2020, an increase of 11 over the number recorded in April 2020 and 18 lower than what was recorded a year ago in May 2019.
  • 65 U.S. firms announced they would boost cash dividend payments to shareholders in May 2020, an increase of 12 over the number recorded in April 2020, and a decrease of 97 from the 162 dividend rises declared back in May 2019.
  • A total of 114 publicly traded companies cut their dividends in May 2020, a decline of 6 from the 120 recorded in April 2020 and also an increase of 98 over the 16 recorded in May 2019.
  • 152 U.S. firms omitted, or suspended, paying their dividends in May 2020, a decrease of 3 from the number recorded in April 2020. That figure is also an increase of 151 over the total recorded in May 2019.

The combined total of dividend cuts and omissions in May 2020 was 266, nine less than the record of 275 recorded in April 2020 for the monthly data series that extends back to January 2004.

Normally, we focus on firms that have announced they are either increasing or decreasing their dividends, as opposed to suspending them, so here is the latest update to our chart tracking the monthly increases and decreases:

Number of Public U.S. Firms Increasing or Decreasing Their Dividends Each Month, January 2004 through May 2020

Looking at the current quarter to date, the following chart shows how the cumulative number of dividend cuts announced per day during 2020-Q2 compares with the second quarters of 2017, 2018, and 2019. This chart is the stock market equivalent of the excess mortality charts that have been developed to more accurately assess the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Number of Public U.S. Companies Cutting or Omitting Dividends, January 2004 through April 2020

Here is the full list of U.S. firms either announcing dividend cuts or suspending their dividends from our regular sampling of dividend declarations during May 2020. Our sample lists 109 firms.

In the list, clicking the links for the publicly-traded company names will take you to our source for their dividend cut or suspension announcement. Clicking the ticker symbols will take you where you can find current price and other information related to the particular firm. Since our sources use automated systems to identify firms cutting or suspending their dividends, any errors in the list may be attributed to their methodology for detecting them. At some point, we'll discuss some of the more common errors we run into that arise from the automation in reporting, but that's a discussion for a different day.

We also recognize the list includes a number of firms that pay variable dividends linked to their earnings and cash flows, which given the current market environment, is an irrelevant consideration that makes people who quibble over such trivia look incredibly foolish. In the current environment, the dividends for these firms are down because their operating environment has deteriorated since their last dividend distribution, just as it has for the firms that set their dividends independently of their earnings and cash flows who are also announcing dividend cuts and suspensions.

The following chart illustrates where economic distress is being concentrated within the U.S. economy by industrial sector during the month of May 2020.

Sampled Dividend Cuts in U.S. by Industrial Sector, May 2020

The oil and gas sector of the U.S. economy remains the hardest hit, followed closely by consumer-oriented businesses such as restaurants, lodging, theaters and other retail-oriented businesses affected by the closures mandated by state and local governments responding to the coronavirus pandemic.

Firms offering financial services were also hit hard in May 2020, with many asset management firms taking it on the chin. Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) also continue to be well represented, since this category includes firms that use the REIT business structure for holding real estate assets for hotels and for rentals, which encompasses office, retail and residential operations.

That rounds out the industrial sectors that recorded double-digit levels of dividend cuts and omissions in May 2020. The remainder of the list indicates the breath of industrial sectors that have been impacted by the coronavirus recession, accounting for 15 of 19 sectors accounted for in our May 2020 sampling.

We anticipate June 2020 will also record an elevated number of firms cutting or suspending their dividends, though we do see signs the pace is slowing. That is partly due to the calendar, as we're now past the bulk of reporting that accompanies 2020-Q2's earnings season, but also because with businesses now being allowed to reopen, aside from those in areas affected by protests, rioting, and looting, there's an element of "wait-and-see" developing among firms that have so far not announced any reductions in their plans for paying dividends.

References

Standard and Poor. S&P Market Attributes Web File. [Excel Spreadsheet]. 1 June 2020.

Seeking Alpha Market Currents Dividend News. [Online Database]. Accessed 1 June 2020.

Wall Street Journal. Dividend Declarations. [Online Database]. Accessed 1 June 2020.

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