With interest rates on bonds, bank CDs, and other low-risk investments at extremely low levels, investors have really taken to the income potential provided by dividend-paying stocks. But a stock that doesn't pay a dividend isn't automatically a loser. In fact, sometimes, a company that chooses to make other uses of its free cash than returning it to shareholders via dividends is making the smartest move it can with its capital.
A recent MarketWatch article gives a good example of how important dividends have become to investor perception of a stock. The mining industry has enjoyed unprecedented success in recent years, as the prices of commodities have risen through the roof. Not only have precious metals like gold and silver reached all-time or multidecade highs, but base industrial metals such as copper have shot to record prices as well. The share prices of many miners have gone up dramatically as a result.
With that as background, though, the article points out that many miners haven't returned their newfound profits in the form of higher dividends. Take a quick look at a few successful miners and what they've done with their dividend payments in recent years:
2-Year Avg. Annual Stock Return
Current Dividend Yield
5-Year Annual Dividend Growth
Source: Yahoo! Finance and Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's.
As you can see, these major players in the mining industry haven't exactly seen their dividend payouts keep up with their stock price growth.
Moreover, plenty of high-flying stocks in the mining sector don't pay dividends at all. Silver Wheaton
What's wrong with that?
Many dividend investors never give these miners a second glance. But unless you're dead-set on having a steady income from all the stocks in your portfolio, judging every stock on its dividend policy can be a big mistake.
You always have to ask yourself this question: What's the best use for a company's cash? In the case of miners, spiking product prices mean that reinvesting capital into expanding mining operations often brings a huge payoff. As a shareholder, if your company can earn a double-digit return on investing your money, you shouldn't want a dividend -- especially since it's so hard right now to find good returns on the dividend cash you receive. In other cases, paying down debt is a smart move, especially for miners that racked up a lot of debt when metals were fetching far lower prices.
It's one thing for large companies, which often have spare cash even after putting a big part of their cash flow into new investments, to pay dividends. BHP Billiton
Keep an open mind
Dividend stocks have a place in nearly every investor's portfolio. But it's essential to remember that dividends aren't the end-all be-all of investing. In fact, you should be happier with a management team that can take all of its available cash and reinvest it profitably than with a company that simply pays out all of its excess profit in a dividend. Granted, it's better to get paid a dividend than not to enjoy profits at all. But when a company takes care of finding the next smart investment for you, it means less work for you.
Tune in every Monday and Wednesday for Dan's columns on retirement, investing, and personal finance.