U.S. companies are boosting dividend payments at a steady clip, a boon for investors who are drawn to the regular cash payments
Corporate America paid out $24.2 billion in dividends in the first quarter, a nearly 28% rise over the $19 billion shelled out in the the first quarter of 2011, according to Standard & Poor’s Corp. This year, 677 companies have raised their payouts, a jump of nearly one-third from the 510 that did so a year ago. Only 31 companies have slashed their payouts this year.
“Dividends had another great quarter,” said Howard Silverblatt, an S&P senior index analyst.
Small investors have poured into dividend-paying mutual funds lately, seeking the comfort of cash in a stock market that they still don’t fully trust. Recently, they’ve been getting the benefit of rising dividends and appreciating stock prices. The S&P 500 index is up more than 28% since early October.
Dividends remain low by historic standards – meaning that theoretically there’s plenty of room for payments to keep rising.
Companies are paying only about 30% of their earnings in dividends, far less than the historic level of 52%, according to S&P.