Unusual Dividend Policies Deserve Your Consideration

Dividend-paying companies typically have a fixed dividend rate, and make payments to shareholders quarterly. But plenty of companies buck that norm, and several of their alternative models actually make a lot of sense.

Few companies are actually required to pay dividends. Typically, dividends come from established blue chips with few better uses for the money. Younger companies often need that stray cash to further fuel their own growth.

However, this rule has plenty of exceptions. Insurance settlement specialist Life Partners Holdings sports a market cap of less than $300 million but it's been paying a dividend for nearly a decade. Meanwhile, Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway, valued at close to $200 billion, pays no dividend at all, since Buffett is still finding lucrative investments for his company's excess cash.

The spice of life
Some dividend payers change up their payment frequency. Some companies, particularly foreign ones, pay dividends twice per year -- and they're sometimes not in equal installments. CPFL Energia of Brazil and Jinpan International of China are two examples. Other companies make their payments just once a year. Disney (NYSE: DIS  ) has been making annual payments for over a decade now. At Disney's 2008 annual meeting, the company explained that with more than  2 million shareholders, sending multiple checks every year becomes extremely costly.

Goldcorp (NYSE: GG  ) , meanwhile, pays a dividend every month -- and recently doubled that payout. 

Keeping us guessing
Variable dividends are even more interesting. Cal-Maine (Nasdaq: CALM  ) , the nation's top egg producer, pays out a third of its profits in dividends on a quarterly basis. Beginning in 2007, Progressive (NYSE: PGR  ) adopted an earnings-based variable model, and makes its payment once a year. Better still, Progressive's formula shares the same factor it uses to determine employee bonuses, thereby aligning shareholder interests with employees'.

These variable payouts don't put much pressure on a company. Those that have promised a certain fixed regular sum can feel a real pinch in tough times, and may have to cut back. Thus, companies may actually be paying out less than they otherwise would, in order to avoid falling short.

Variable payouts are not good if you're looking for a steady, predictable income. But for many long-term shareholders, they can make sense as a way to help increase the potential amount you'll reinvest in new shares over the long haul.

There's usually no right or wrong policy. Choose the best dividend-paying companies with strategies that suit your needs.


We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.

Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway. Berkshire Hathaway and Walt Disney are Motley Fool Inside Value picks and Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendations. Jinpan International is a Motley Fool Hidden Gems pick. The Fool owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway and Cal-Maine Foods.  Try any of our investing newsletter services free for 30 days. The Motley Fool is Fools writing for Fools.


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  • Report this Comment On January 12, 2011, at 6:54 PM, esxokm wrote:

    As a Disney shareholder, I despise the practice of the annual dividend. For obvious reasons, of course.

    I remember management supplying a cost-related explanation for the annual dividend, but I honestly don't buy it. In the electronic age, does it actually cost a lot to send a dividend?

    Of course, I understand many shareholders may have checks mailed to them. I remember reading (although please don't take this as fact, you'll have to verify this statement) that, oftentimes, Disney fans will own a few shares just for the fun of it. This then supposedly inflates the cost basis.

    My question therefore is: What is the actual expense of paying the dividend? Has Disney ever given a stat?

    I would argue this: if it is truly cost-prohibitive to pay an annual dividend (and I doubt it is), then cut elsewhere to allow it. I doubt it would be so difficult to pay a quarterly dividend in an economically prudent manner. A company as large as Disney, incapable of a quarterly dividend? Silly talk...

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