Have the workings of dividends and dividend distributions mystified you too? Chances are it's not the concept of dividends that confuses you; the ex-dividend date and date of record are the tricky factors. In this article we'll sort through the dividend payment process and explain on what date the buyer of the stock gets to keep the dividend.

Before we explain how it all works, let's go over some of the basics to ensure we have the proper foundation to understand the more complex issues. Some investment terms are thrown around more often than Frisbees on a hot summer day, so it's important that we define exactly what we're talking about.

Different Types of Dividends
The decision to distribute a dividend is made by a company's board of directors. There is nothing requiring a company to pay a dividend, even if the company has paid dividends in the past. However, many investors view a steady dividend history as an important indicator of a good investment, so most companies are reluctant to reduce or stop their dividend payments. (For more information on buying dividend paying stocks, see the articles How Dividends Work for Investors and The Importance of Dividends.)

Dividends can be paid in various different forms, but there are two major categories: cash and stock. The most popular are cash dividends. This is money paid to stockholders, normally out of the corporation's current earnings or accumulated profits.

For example, suppose you own 100 shares of Cory's Brewing Company (ticker: CBC). Cory has made record sales this year thanks to an unusually high demand for his unique peach flavored beer. The company therefore decides to share some of this good fortune with the stockholders and declares a dividend of $0.10 per share. This means that you will receive a check from Cory's Brewing Company for $10.00 ($0.10*100). In practice, companies that pay dividends usually do so on a regular basis of four times a year. A one-time dividend such as the one we just described is referred to as an extra dividend.

The stock dividend, the second most common dividend paying method, pays additional shares rather than cash. Suppose that Cory's Brewing Company wishes to issue a dividend but doesn't have the necessary cash available to pay everyone. He does, however, have enough Treasury stock to meet the requirements of the dividend payout. So instead of paying cash, Cory decides to issue a dividend of 0.05 new shares of CBC for every existing one. This means that you will receive five shares of CBC for every 100 shares that you own. If any fractional shares are left over, the dividend is paid as cash (because stocks can't trade fractionally).

Another type of dividend is the property dividend, but it is used rarely. This type of allocation is a physical transfer of a tangible asset from the company to the investors. For instance, if Cory's Brewing Company was still insistent on paying out dividends but didn't have enough Treasury stock or enough money to pay out all investors, the company could look for something physical (property) to distribute. In this case, Cory might decide that his unique peach beer would be the best substitute, so he could distribute a couple of six-packs to all the shareholders.

The Important Dates of a Dividend
There are four major dates in the process of a company paying dividends:

  • Declaration date - This is the date on which the board of directors announces to shareholders and the market as a whole that the company will pay a dividend.
  • Ex-date or Ex-dividend date - On (or after) this date the security trades without its dividend. If you buy a dividend paying stock one day before the ex-dividend you will still get the dividend, but if you buy on the ex-dividend date, you won't get the dividend. Conversely, if you want to sell a stock and still receive a dividend that has been declared you need to sell on (or after) the ex-dividend day. The ex-date is the second business day before the date of record.
  • Date of record - This is the date on which the company looks at its records to see who the shareholders of the company are. An investor must be listed as a holder of record to ensure the right of a dividend payout.
  • Date of payment (payable date) - This is the date the company mails out the dividend to the holder of record. This date is generally a week or more after the date of record so that the company has sufficient time to ensure that it accurately pays all those who are entitled.

Why All These Dates?
Ex-dividend dates are used to make sure dividend checks go to the right people. In today's market, settlement of stocks is a T+3 process, which means that when you buy a stock, it takes three days from the transaction date (T) for the change to be entered into the company's record books.

As mentioned, if you are not in the company's record books on the date of record, you won't receive the dividend payment. To ensure that you are in the record books, you need to buy the stock at least three business days before the date of record, which also happens to be the day before the ex-dividend date.

exdiv.gif
Copyright © 2009 Investopedia.com

As you can see by the diagram above, if you buy on the ex-dividend date (Tuesday), which is only two business days before the date of record, you will not receive the dividend because your name will not appear in the company's record books until Friday. If you want to buy the stock and receive the dividend, you need to buy it on Monday. (When the stock is trading with the dividend the term cum dividend is used). But, if you want to sell the stock and still receive the dividend, you need to sell on or after Tuesday the 6th.

*Note: Different rules apply if the dividend is 25% or greater of the value of the security. In this case, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) indicates that the ex-date is the first business day following the payable date. For further details on dividend issues, search FINRA's website.

A Money Machine?
Now that we understand that a dividend can be received by purchasing the stock before the ex-date, can we make more money? Nope, it's not that easy. Remember, everybody knows when the dividend is going to be paid, and the market sees the dividend payout as a time when the company is giving out a part of its profits (reducing its cash). So the price of the stock will drop approximately by the amount of the dividend on the ex-dividend date. The word "approximately" is crucial here. Due to tax considerations and other happenings in the market, the actual drop in price may be slightly different. In any case, the point is that you can't make free profits on the ex-dividend date.

Conclusion
The reasons for and effects of all these dates are by no means easy to grasp. It's important to clear up any confusion between ex-dividend and record dates. But always keep in mind that when you're investing in a dividend paying stock, it's more crucial to consider the quality of the company than the date on which you buy in.

Related Articles
  1. Mutual Funds & ETFs

    ETF Analysis: Utilities Select Sector SPDR

    Learn about the Utilities Select Sector SPDR ETF and the benchmark index it tracks, and understand what type of investors may be interested in the fund.
  2. Mutual Funds & ETFs

    ETF Analysis: iShares International Select Dividend

    Learn how the iShares International Select Dividend ETF provides investors an opportunity to gain exposure to high-quality companies outside the United States.
  3. Investing Basics

    How Do You Find Penny Stocks That Pay Dividends?

    Learn about how investors can use online stock screeners to obtain a list of dividend-paying penny stocks for their consideration.
  4. Investing News

    Understanding How Mutual Funds Pay Dividends

    The process by which mutual fund dividends are calculated, distributed and reported is fairly straightforward in most cases. Here's a look.
  5. Fundamental Analysis

    Bet on this U.S. Automaker for Long-Term Gains

    Ford holds a stronger technical position than General Motors and also pays a consistent dividend. This combination could mean greater 3-to-5-year returns.
  6. Stock Analysis

    2 Stocks to Bet on the Future of Space Exploration

    Learn about why investors must wait to invest in Space X, and read about other companies involved in the future of space exploration.
  7. Investing

    The 3 Biggest Misconceptions of Dividend Stocks

    To find the best dividend stocks, focus on total return, not yield.
  8. Professionals

    How Does Tim Cook's Management Style Differ from Steve Jobs?

    Understand the differences between Tim Cook and Steve Jobs. Learn if the perceived differences makes Cook a good or bad leader and CEO.
  9. Mutual Funds & ETFs

    What You Need To Know About Bond ETF Yields

    When it comes to fixed income investing, yield is an important component of a bond investment’s total return to accurately assess if it's the right move.
  10. Personal Finance

    RIAs and Brokers: What's the Difference?

    RIAs and brokers are held to different standards when providing investment advice. Here's how they differ.
RELATED TERMS
  1. Real Estate Investment Trust - ...

    A REIT is a type of security that invests in real estate through ...
  2. Profit Margin

    A category of ratios measuring profitability calculated as net ...
  3. Dividend Yield

    A financial ratio that shows how much a company pays out in dividends ...
  4. Security

    A financial instrument that represents an ownership position ...
  5. Series 6

    A securities license entitling the holder to register as a limited ...
  6. Record Date

    The cut-off date established by a company in order to determine ...
RELATED FAQS
  1. What is the difference between record date and ex-dividend date?

    The record date of a stock and the ex-dividend date are both important terms that relate to which investors receive dividends ... Read Full Answer >>
  2. Do penny stocks pay dividends?

    Because of the small market capitalization and revenues typical of most penny stocks, there are very few that offer dividends. ... Read Full Answer >>
  3. How do dividend distributions affect additional paid in capital?

    Whether a dividend distribution has any effect on additional paid-in capital depends solely on what type of dividend is issued: ... Read Full Answer >>
  4. When does the holding period on a stock dividend start?

    The holding period on a stock dividend typically begins the day after it is purchased. Understanding the holding period is ... Read Full Answer >>
  5. What kind of companies in the utilities sector offer the most stable dividends for ...

    Among the companies that offer the most stable dividends for risk-averse investors are large, solidly established U.S.-based ... Read Full Answer >>
  6. What average annual total return does the utilities sector generate?

    Due to their highly stable earnings and cash flows, utilities companies are popular among investors interested in dividend ... Read Full Answer >>

You May Also Like

Trading Center
×

You are using adblocking software

Want access to all of Investopedia? Add us to your “whitelist”
so you'll never miss a feature!