Why dividends make sense in an inflationary environment

Why dividends make sense in an inflationary environment

The fallout from Covid-19 put pressure on corporate dividend payments in many sectors and markets. Now, as economies recover and earnings bounce back, dividends worldwide are poised to rebound. At the same time, while widespread fiscal stimulus may push the global economy into a period of higher inflation, history shows how dividend-focused investment strategies can provide sustainable income in a reflationary environment.

At the height of pandemic-induced uncertainty in the markets last year, many companies came under economic or political pressures to cut or suspend dividends. Dividends declined by around 3 per cent across the S&P 500 Index in the US and fell further in Europe.

As a response to the pandemic, economic policymakers have cut interest rates and formulated massive fiscal stimulus programs - including a historic US$1.9 trillion recent stimulus package in the US alone, with potentially more on the way. Such a massive and coordinated policy response has increased expectations that the economy will enter a period of higher inflation.

This week’s Chart Room looks at the long-term relationship between dividends and inflation. Periods of inflation can be challenging for income-seeking investors, as inflation eats into the real purchasing power of bond coupons, which are generally fixed at a certain level. By contrast, dividends are a share of the corporate profit pool, and so when profits are rising, they can rise too. This growth means they can increase in line with, or ahead of, inflation, protecting the real purchasing power of these income streams. Since 1900, the 10-year annualised growth in dividends across the S&P 500 has outpaced CPI growth nearly three-quarters (73 per cent) of the time.

The market’s recent focus on themes like ‘stay at home’ and, more recently, ‘reopening and reflation’ has seen many stocks which don’t fit into these buckets falling out of favour. We think this is particularly true in defensive sectors like consumer staples, utilities and healthcare, where some high-quality companies with good dividend prospects now look undervalued. For income-focused investors, that means it’s a great time to take the long view. 

This document is issued by FIL Responsible Entity (Australia) Limited ABN 33 148 059 009, AFSL No. 409340 (“Fidelity Australia”).  Fidelity Australia is a member of the FIL Limited group of companies commonly known as Fidelity International.

Prior to making an investment decision, retail investors should seek advice from their financial adviser. This document is intended as general information only. Please remember past performance is not a guide to the future. Investors should also obtain and consider the Product Disclosure Statements ("PDS") for the fund(s) mentioned in this document before making any decision about whether to acquire the product. The PDS is available on www.fidelity.com.au or can be obtained by contacting Fidelity Australia on 1800 119 270. This document has been prepared without taking into account your objectives, financial situation or needs. You should consider such matters before acting on the information contained in this document. This document may include general commentary on market activity, industry or sector trends or other broad-based economic or political conditions which should not be construed as investment advice. Information stated herein about specific securities is subject to change. Any reference to specific securities should not be construed as a recommendation to buy, sell or hold these securities. While the information contained in this document has been prepared with reasonable care, no responsibility or liability is accepted for any errors or omissions or misstatements however caused. The document may not be reproduced or transmitted without prior written permission of Fidelity Australia. The issuer of Fidelity's funds is FIL Responsible Entity (Australia) Limited ABN 33 148 059 009. References to ($) are in Australian dollars unless stated otherwise. Details of Fidelity Australia’s provision of financial services to retail clients are set out in our Financial Services Guide, a copy of which can be downloaded from our website.

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