There is general agreement that the lion’s share of investment returns from the stock market are derived from the compounding effect of the reinvestment of dividends. The evidence from the Barclays Equity Gilt Study suggests this accounts for as much as 90% of the total returns from the UK Market over the longer term. The importance of dividends is recognised in well-known valuation methods such as the Gordon Growth Model, which estimates the present value of future dividends to derive company valuations.

A more pragmatic approach to the importance of dividends is that they are “real” in the sense that once declared and paid, they represent hard cash that cannot be reclaimed by a company. They thus provide a more tangible measure of the financial health of a company than profits or earnings, which are subject to the whims of the auditor, can be subjected to “aggressive” accounting or even restated in later years.

Given such importance placed on dividends by investors, it is strange that so little attention has been paid to the way many companies delay releasing dividend payments to their shareholders. We reviewed the top 25 dividend payers (which together represent almost three-quarters of the dividend income available from the FTSE 350) and detailed these time lags and the wide variation from one company to another.

It is worth explaining the typical dividend timetable for a major listed company, using Vodafone (the largest UK listed dividend payer) as an example. Vodafone has a March year-end. The annual results, and proposed dividend, were announced this year on May 22nd, with a payment date for shareholders set for August 1st. This is a gap of 71 days, or 123 days since the year-end. For those who hold Vodafone indirectly through funds, such as the Munro Fund with a January year-end (and thus a July half-year end), this dividend income cannot be paid out until the end of the first half of next year, i.e. the end of May 2013. This is well over 2 years since the start of the financial year in which Vodafone earnt this money.

Vodafone as it happens is a faster payer than the majority of the top 25 companies. The average gap for these companies between the declaration of the final dividend and its payment is about 82 days. This rises to 121 days…

Unlock the rest of this article with a 14 day trial

or Unlock with your email

Already have an account?
Login here