By JACK HOUGH
Dividends are making a comeback. A dozen companies in Standard & Poor's 500-stock index have initiated payments this year, bringing the total number of dividend payers to 402.
That's the highest count since 1999; as recently as 2008, just 363 index members paid dividends.
Credit three factors for the comeback: Companies are stuffed with near-record levels of cash, revenue growth has broadly slowed, and (as a result) companies are in need of less investment spending to fund their expansion.
Also, with bond yields near historic lows, dividend-paying stocks have been a hit with investors. During the first half of this year, a rising-dividend stock strategy turned in the best performance of dozens of stock-picking strategies tracked by Bank of America Merrill Lynch, including ones that look for modest price-to-earnings ratios, big upside earnings surprises or share-price momentum.
The dividend surge, in other words, might be an effort by companies to make their shares more popular.
Tech firms have led the way. Their contribution to S&P 500 dividends, boosted by initiations this year from Apple (AAPL),
The newest batch of dividend-paying stocks might provide an opportunity for investors. Savita Subramanian, a stock strategist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, expects demand for dividends to remain strong as the baby boomers retire and find bond yields too meager to provide enough investment income.
Yields for the freshman dividend stocks are modest but not trivial; a few even rival the S&P 500's yield of 2.1%. More important, these companies, listed below, have started payments at levels that look low relative to their profits, suggesting they may increase payments in coming years. That could attract more attention from income investors, and with it, higher stock prices.
as % of
|Agilent Technologies (A)||13||1.0||12%|
|American Tower (AMT)||47||1.3||58%|
|Coventry Health Care (CVH)||12||1.5||18%|
|NASDAQ OMX Group (NDAQ)||9||2.2||21%|
|NRG Energy (NRG)||22||1.7||38%|
|Phillips 66 (PSX)||7||2.0||14%|
|The AES (AES)||10||1.4||13%|
|Thermo Fisher Scientific (TMO)||12||0.9||11%|