Pfizer's (NYSE:PFE) more than 40-year streak of raising its dividend came to a close yesterday. The company said next year's dividend would stay at 2008 levels. Should investors care?


Sure, the company won't make it on a few lists, and it might get dropped from an index or two, but investors should care about what's in the best interest of the company right now. Past performance is no indication of future performance, and all that jazz.

The company already has the highest dividend yield, by far, of the big pharmas. Does it really need to go higher?


Trailing Dividend Yield



Merck (NYSE:MRK)


Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE:BMY)


Sanofi-Aventis (NYSE:SNY)


Eli Lilly (NYSE:LLY)


GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE:GSK)


Source: Motley Fool CAPS.

Sure, Pfizer could have raised its dividend by a penny or two, as Eli Lilly did. But by not doling out any additional cash, management is basically telling investors that it thinks Pfizer can get a better return on that cash than they can. And with other companies beaten down so much, there are plenty of investments it could make.

It's also possible that Pfizer has cash in all the wrong places. It can't pay the U.S. dividend with foreign cash without incurring taxes on the repatriation. But that cash is still there, and it would certainly be available to make a substantial purchase of a foreign-based company. Global Gains pick Novo Nordisk would be an excellent addition, although it's not particularly cheap right now.

I'm sure that some investors who hold Pfizer just for the dividend think the company should have raised its payout no matter what the circumstances, but that's the wrong kind of thinking. You should own Pfizer in the first place only if you think management can make the right decisions to grow the company's value. Right now, cash is king, and management is smart to hold on to as much as it can.

Pfizer, Eli Lilly, and GlaxoSmithKline are Motley Fool Income Investor selections. To see how dividend-paying stocks can offer both secure income and the opportunity for growth, take a free look at this service with a 30-day free trial.

Fool contributor Brian Orelli, Ph.D., doesn't own shares of any company mentioned in this article. Pfizer is also an Inside Value pick, and the Fool owns shares. The Fool has a disclosure policy.