Don’t Invest Only For Dividend “Income” – An Overview

We believe it’s not a rational decision to focus solely on dividend stocks (or non-dividend stocks for that matter). Don’t invest only for dividends.

I don’t think you should ever invest for income. It is a mistake…….. You shouldn’t just invest for dividends, you should invest in businesses that reinvest their profits to achieve a future growth rate…..However, I realise that for many investors, the idea of realising part of their capital to provide income is anathema.

Terry Smith, CIO of Fundsmith.

We are proponents of total return investing, not “income” investing. Dividend-paying stocks can serve as a useful heuristic of where to look for good companies, but nothing more. The goal shouldn’t be to grow “income”. To invest solely for “income” you have to consider this:

  1. A dividend is not an income. It’s a capital distribution from the company to the owners, from one pocket to the other (less taxes).
  2. You need to spend time to reinvest (if you don’t consume or spend the dividend).
  3. You reinvest at multiples to book while being paid from book value. Thus, the marginal rate of return diminishes. Over many decades it’s the earnings/reinvestment that is the main contributor to wealth. You better understand how to reinvest within a proper framework.
  4. A company that can retain and redeploy earnings are far more preferable than being paid a dividend and subsequently reinvest at multiples to book.
  5. You can always sell shares to create “income”.

Please read our previous articles about dividend investing:

DRIP is inferior to internal compounding

Stocks are unique because you can reinvest internally:

The unique feature of stocks is that they allow you to reinvest the earnings internally, ie, redeploy it back into the business without distributing it. To keep all or a great majority of the earnings for redeployment is a feature no other assets have. This allows for growth. Real estate, for example, doesn’t offer this opportunity. You receive taxable rental income but none of it will be reinvested until you have enough for the next purchase.

As mentioned, over the long-term the wealth comes from the reinvestments, not the initial capital. The compound interest works like magic for the ones who are patient! Unfortunately, this advantage is understood by very few investors.

We believe the payout ratio is around 50% among the S&P 500 companies. Assuming the average S&P 500 company earns 12% on the equity, 50% of the earnings are redeployed back into the business at that rate (or close).

If you reinvest the dividend at today’s P/B of 3 you reinvest at 4% (you pay three times book value for the same equity). The higher the payout ratio, the more difficult it is to compound. Furthermore, because the S&P 500 trades at 3x times book value, every retained dollar translates into a valuation of 3x.

Many investors refrained from investing in Berkshire Hathaway because it didn’t/doesn’t pay a dividend. But Berkshire Hathaway has been a great investment exactly because it didn’t pay a dividend but managed to redeploy earnings at high incremental returns. A very simple principle, yet many ignore it.

Being paid a dividend gives a feeling of receiving something for “nothing”. But a dividend always has an alternative use!

Lesson learned:

To achieve an above-average return it pays to look for companies that have high returns on capital but additionally are able to redeploy most of the earnings. You can pay high multiples today and still beat the market handsomely over 10-20 years.


– What is the downside of investing for income, according to Terry Smith, CIO of Fundsmith?

Terry Smith suggests that investing for income, especially relying on dividends, can be a mistake. The FAQs can elaborate on Smith’s perspective and provide insights into alternative investment strategies.

– What is the difference between “income” investing and total return investing?

The content promotes total return investing over “income” investing and explains why dividends should not be the sole focus. FAQs can delve into the concept of total return investing and its advantages.

– What are the drawbacks of relying on dividends for income, and how does reinvesting impact returns?

The content outlines the challenges of relying solely on dividends for income, including the need to reinvest and its impact on returns. FAQs can expand on these points to provide a comprehensive understanding.

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