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Five ways to look at dividend investing

Christine St Anne  |  09 Sep 2011Text size  Decrease  Increase  |  
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Christine St Anne is Morningstar's online funds and ETFs editor.


The recent reporting season proved a little lacklustre. While companies on the whole met expectations, it is clear that earnings continue to disappoint. The reporting season, however, was typified by a larger number of companies increasing their dividend payments to shareholders.

"Companies are starting to simplify their businesses. They are starting to pay excess capital out to their investors. So while earnings have disappointed, dividend payments have been good," Russell Investments portfolio manager Scott Bennett says.

Bennett is responsible for managing the Russell Investments high-dividend exchange-traded fund (ETF). The Russell Australian High Dividend Index (RDV) tracks a number of companies that are well positioned for dividend growth.

Bennett says while dividend yields are currently attractive, investors need to look at a number of factors to ensure these yields remain sustainable.


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1. Look at the past and future

"To ensure companies are positioned for long-term dividend growth, we look at what companies have done in the past and their ability to grow going forward," Bennett says. 

Bennett says investors could determine whether companies will be on track to pay their dividends by looking at fundamental research, consensus data, company announcements and guidance notes.

For example, this reporting season, BHP Billiton (BHP) management announced that the company was committed to growing dividends.

Morningstar also includes three-year forward estimates for company dividends in its research reports.

"Dividends are not guaranteed like term deposits. It is important that investors not only look at past dividend payments but also place greater emphasis on the company's ability to pay future dividends," Bennett says.

State Street Global Advisors head of active equities, Olivia Engel, says investors should also be mindful of the level of volatility in dividend payments.

"A consistent level of divided returns in the past indicates that a company is better placed to continue its dividend payments, rather than a company whose dividends jump from year to year," Engel says.

A company like Qantas (QAN) tends to have volatile dividend payments. This year, it did not generate any dividends for shareholders despite its higher yield.

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