When you think about investing money in good companies, there are typically two ways to invest: Equity (ownership, such as stock) or Debt (lending, such as bonds). The amount of risk that you are willing to accept, coupled with your desired return, will determine which investments are more suitable for your needs. As a shareholder (equity ownership), you can be rewarded with dividends and stock price increases, but this all comes with the price of risk. With a debt investment, most investors seek a stable fixed-income investment that produces a systematic payout or yield. As corporations make a profit, some of this income might be distributed to shareholders as a dividend or interest payments to bondholders. Or, it might be retained (reinvested back into the company) or used to retire debt - this is generally decided by the board of directors.

Pay Dividends or Retain Earnings?
As you study different companies, they generally fall into one of two styles: growth or value. Companies are also sometimes referred to as “Dividend & Income Stocks” or “Growth Stocks”. Growth companies have strong earnings potential; therefore, they’re typically higher-priced companies. Because they focus on growth, they tend to retain more of their earnings than value companies. This allows reinvesting the profits back into the business to promote growth with the goal of increasing the stock price.

Value companies, on the other hand, are stocks that have fallen out of favor and are undervalued by the current marketplace. These companies can be acquired at bargain prices and tend to perform well long term. Many value companies will pay a dividend to shareholders to show stability and attract investors.

Growth Company Examples: Amazon (Nasdaq:AMZN), Google (Nasdaq:GOOG)
These growth companies pay very small dividends (if any) as they tend to “retain earnings” to grow the company.
Technology companies are usually categorized as growth companies.

Value Company Examples: AT&T (NYSE:T), General Electric (NYSE:GE)
These are value companies that pay handsome dividends to shareholders.
Utility companies are usually categorized as value companies.

Practical Uses for the Dividend Payout and Retention Ratios
The Dividend Payout Ratio is a calculation used to measure the percentage of a company’s net income that is paid to shareholders as dividends; whereas the Retention Ratio is a measure that determines the portion of earnings that are reinvested back into the business.

Example: Let’s assume that company XYZ had quarterly dividend payments last year of 70 cents per share, which equals a total annual dividend per share of $2.80. XYZ also reported earnings per share of $5.60. How would you calculate the Dividend Payout Ratio?

Dividend Payout Ratio (DPR) = Annual Dividend per share/Earnings per share
DPR = 2.80/5.60
DPR = 0.50 or 50%

The Retention Ratio is the exact opposite of the dividend payout ratio, and it is calculated by taking 1 minus the DPR. So, the Retention Ratio for McDonald’s would be 50% = 1-50%.

What Does It All Mean?
For investors seeking income, the dividend payout ratio and dividend yield (current dividend/current price) are useful tools to gauge the annual income generated from the investment and to compare a company versus its industry peers or another income stock that you may be considering. If the dividend payout ratio is 53.5%, then investors can expect the company to pay out 53.5 cents on every dollar earned by the company and reinvest the remaining 46.5 cents. Low payouts would indicate that the company might be in growth mode or fairly new; whereas high payouts can indicate maturity.

Companies like AT&T have dividend payout ratios that well exceed 100%. A DPR exceeding 100% indicates that a company is paying out more than it is earning. High payouts can be problematic and harmful to companies looking to expand or build positive cash flow. In 2013, CenturyLink (NYSE:CTL) reduced its quarterly dividend from 72 cents in 2012 down to 54 cents in 2013 to sustain its business model. Dividend reductions are generally not a positive indicator for the financial condition of a company; thus it can lead to a decrease in the stock price and investor panic. CenturyLink’s stock price decreased by over 20% in the middle of February 2013, when the company announced it would cut its upcoming dividend.

Increases and Decreases in the Ratio
We stated earlier that a reduced dividend can raise a red flag; however, a lower dividend payout ratio when compared with the previous year does not necessarily indicate bad news. Several factors both positive and negative can increase or decrease the dividend payout ratio:

Decreases to the Dividend Payout Ratio (DPR):
- Flat dividend and an increase in earnings
- Decreased dividend and earnings remain unchanged

Increases to the Dividend Payout Ratio (DPR):
- Flat dividend and a decrease in earnings
- Increased dividend and earnings remain unchanged

The risk of investing in stocks can be reduced by implementing a portfolio that contains both stocks with high dividend payout ratios (dividend stocks) and companies with high retention ratios (growth stocks). By adding diverse industries and international investments, investors can further protect themselves and their portfolios to an even greater extent. Be cautious of companies with extremely high dividend payout ratios, because it can lead to future cash flow problems or excessive debt. In addition, companies with too much retained earnings can soar to record high stock prices, accumulate too much cash and also cause investor concern.

Related Articles
  1. Investing Basics

    Introduction To Growth Investing

    There are principles and techniques that are applicable for many different types of investors and growth strategies.
  2. Investing Basics

    How And Why Do Companies Pay Dividends?

    If a company decides to pay dividends, it will choose one of three approaches: residual, stability or hybrid policies. Which a company chooses can determine how profitable its dividend payments ...
  3. Investing Basics

    Income, Value and Growth Stocks

    Investors who buy stocks generally seek one of three criteria: undervalued holdings, growth potential or steady income. The characteristics of stocks in each of these categories differs accordingly.
  4. Active Trading

    The Value Investor's Handbook

    Learn the technique that Buffett, Lynch and other pros used to make their fortunes.
  5. Markets

    Your Dividend Payout: Can You Count On It?

    We go over several telling factors that can help you answer this question and avoid losses.
  6. Investing

    Where the Price is Right for Dividends

    There are two broad schools of thought for equity income investing: The first pays the highest dividend yields and the second focuses on healthy yields.
  7. Investing

    3 Cheap Dividend Growth Stocks for Your Portfolio

    Top dividend growth stocks to add to your portfolio.
  8. Mutual Funds & ETFs

    How to Reinvest Dividends from ETFs

    Learn about reinvesting ETF dividends, including the benefits and drawbacks of dividend reinvestment plans (DRIPs) and manual reinvestment.
  9. Retirement

    Is Caterpillar Stock Suitable for Your IRA or Roth IRA?

    Learn about Caterpillar's suitability for a retirement portfolio. Does CAT have long-term viability? Find out if CAT is better for a traditional IRA or Roth IRA.
  10. Investing Basics

    What are the fiduciary responsibilities of board members?

    Find out what fiduciary duties a board of directors owes to the company and its shareholders, including the duties of care, good faith and loyalty.
  1. Which mutual funds made money in 2008?

    Out of the 2,800 mutual funds that Morningstar, Inc., the leading provider of independent investment research in North America, ... Read Full Answer >>
  2. What are the dividend reinvestment options for a mutual fund?

    There are two primary choices for how investors can choose to handle dividend distributions made by mutual funds that they ... Read Full Answer >>
  3. Do mutual funds pay dividends or interest?

    Depending on the type of investments included in the portfolio, mutual funds may pay dividends, interest, or both. Types ... Read Full Answer >>
  4. Should I sell my shares if a company suspends its dividend?

    Since 2008, when the Federal Reserve slashed interest rates to zero and then kept them there indefinitely, dividend-paying ... Read Full Answer >>
  5. Do hedge funds pay dividends?

    Hedge funds rarely pay dividends to the accredited investors who invest directly in them. Instead, these investors share ... Read Full Answer >>
  6. Which mutual funds pay the highest dividends?

    For many people, the reliability of dividend or interest income is one of the primary benefits of investing. Like individuals ... Read Full Answer >>

You May Also Like

Trading Center