The Mechanics of Dividends

Dividends: Ultimate passive income
Dividends: The Ultimate Passive Income

As I’ve previously written, dividends are the cornerstone of my investing philosophy.

As part owner of a company, it is only right that you should share in the profits. Dividends are the means by which owners are paid. Personally, I have found receiving money on a regular basis for no work addictive. Here is a breakdown of how dividends work in practice.

Dividend frequency

Companies that issue dividends typically do so annually, quarterly, or monthly, with the latter two options being by far the most common.  I don’t have any numbers to back this up, but it seems to me that over the last decade or so, there has been a trend towards monthly payments.  Whether that’s the actual case or not, you should be aware of when your payments will be delivered.  Personally, I prefer monthly payments, as it evens out my cash flow, and will provide me with regular monthly income upon retirement.  (…many, many years from now.)

Even if you invest in companies that pay quarterly, it is possible to develop a portfolio that pays you roughly the same amount of money each month, although a bit more care is needed in building your portfolio.  Companies that pay quarterly will be in one of three possible dividend cycles.  This is probably best explained with an example:

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Future Business Trends: Doomed Industries

Future Business Trends
“If you can look into the seeds of time
And say which grain will grow and which will not,
Speak, then, to me, who neither beg nor fear
Your favors nor your hate.”

After my two posts of earlier this week, (newspaper paywalls and lessons learned from a changing world) I’ve been thinking about how much the world has changed over my lifetime, and future business trends over next forty years.

Change isn’t bad for all companies. I remember visiting a historical park fifteen years ago, and setting eyes on a weigh-scale that had “International Business Machines” prominently displayed on it. IBM has certainly had ups and downs over the past century, but they are still very much a going concern. This is because they have adapted to changing times and have not gotten complacent with their business. IBM’s initial business has long since gone the way of the Do-Do, but not all companies are as nimble. It might be instructive to go through a list of previously great companies that have recently withered and died : Enron, Lehman Brothers, Kodak, Eaton’s, and RIM, currently hanging on by the skin of its teeth. But that’s not what this post is about. This post is about fearlessly predicting which currently-great companies (or industries) may stumble in the future. These predictions will all seem ridiculous now, and I’ll probably be wrong on most, if not all of them, but it’s still a good idea to keep an open mind about a changing world.


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Change is the Only Constant

change is the only constant
There was a time when this was the state of the art.

“Change is the only constant” is hardly a new sentiment, but it occurred to me after my rantlet (small-scale rant) on Monday that there might actually be something useful to learn from the situation. “Learn” might not be the best word; maybe the phrase “develop a deeper understanding of” or “get a new appreciation for” might be more suitable. Semantics aside, considering the decline of newspapers can lend some valuable investing insight. Simply put, don’t get too comfortable with any of your investment strategies or any of the companies you invest in. Eventually, change will come and if you’re not ready for it, it’ll knock you off your feet.

Because they’re so clever with oblique references, investors refer to companies that produce out-dated products as “buggy whip makers”. The metaphor is apt. As the world changes, the quality and price of a particular item becomes irrelevant if there is no more demand for it. Since the introduction of the new-fangled “horseless carriage” the buggy whip market just hasn’t been the same. So it is with VCR, typewriter, and slide rule  makers.  The lesson here for all long-term investors: There is no such thing as a future-proof company.

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