Dividend Growth Slows, Thanks to Energy Companies

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It seems like the endless growth of dividends and buybacks has run into headwinds. We have seen evidence, even late in 2014 and earlier in 2015, that dividends and buybacks may have started to let up off the gas a bit.

Standard & Poor’s shows now that U.S. companies are slowing the rate of dividend net increases. Is it a surprise at all that energy issues account for a disproportionate share of those cuts? S&P noted that trusts and limited partnerships remain volatile and inconsistent.

S&P showed that the indicated U.S. common stock dividend net increases rose by $12.5 billion during the second quarter of 2015. This is down from the $12.6 billion seen in the second quarter of 2014. It may seem small on the surface that it equates to only a 0.6% year-over-year slowdown, but the larger picture shows it more clearly:

For the 12 months ending June 2015, dividend net increases fell 10.2% to $49.5 billion compared to an increase of $55.1 billion for the corresponding period.

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S&P also said that 562 dividend increases were reported during the second quarter of 2015. That is down 19.3% from the 696 dividend hikes reported during the same period of 2014. Still there is some measurable growth. S&P said:

For the 12-month period ending June 2015, 3092 issues increased their payments from the 3134 issues that increased their payments during the prior 12-month period, a 1.3% increase.

S&P also noted that 85 companies decreased dividends in the second quarter of 2015, versus 57 a year earlier (S&P noted Q1 2014). For the 12-month period ending June 2015, some 389 companies lowered their dividend payments, versus 254 decreases in the prior 12-month period. As far as how energy plays a role, a combined quote from S&P’s Howard Silverblatt said:

Energy continues to be the weak point for dividends, as they represented 45% of all dividend cuts during the quarter, with Trusts and L.P.’s becoming very volatile and inconsistent in their payments. … Energy still remains the main concern for dividends, as the sector represented 45% of all the dividend decreases in the quarter. Given the current declared policies, it would take a catastrophic event (or government action) for 2015 not to be a record year. The question at this point is will we extend the four-year run of double-digit growth in actual payments. The answer appears to be that we will be very close to that mark, and while the actual rate is relevant to the official record, it is a nice neighborhood to be in.

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The end result is better than some might think from just the headlines, but the ongoing wave of dividend hikes is becoming much more tame. S&P did maintain that overall dividend growth continues. The firm also still expects another record of actual cash payments in 2015.