A dividend is a distribution of some company's profits to its shareholders.
Matured companies are more likely to pay dividends, while growth companies prefer to reinvest most of their profits for business expansion.
There are four important dates regarding dividend payments, among which the ex-dividend date is crucial for investors who trade the stock.
A dividend may move the share price up or down in the short run, though it does not increase shareholder wealth or market capitalization.
Understanding a Dividend
For stock investors, their returns generally come from two sources.
One is capital gains, realized through the sale of a share with an increased price. For example, if you buy a stock at $100 per share and sell it at $110, the capital gains will be $10 ($110-$100) per share.
The other is dividends. For many companies with profits, they can use part of their earnings to reward shareholders, and such distributed profits are known as dividends.
Typically, dividends are paid out on a company’s common stock in cash. Regular dividend payments make a company more attractive to investors because that generally showcases the company's robust financial position.
Mature companies are more likely to pay a dividend because they require less capital as opposed to young, high-growth companies who prefer to reinvest most of their profits to sustain future expansion.
In the United States, companies usually pay dividends quarterly. The board of directors decides on when to declare a dividend payout and the amount of the payment.
For investors, there are four important dates regarding dividends: the declaration date, the record date, the ex-dividend date, and the payment date.
Declaration date. This is the date on which the dividend is declared by the company. It usually accompanies the company's earnings release.
Record date. Record date is set as the company declares a dividend. It means that shareholders on record on that date are entitled to the dividend payment.
Ex-dividend date. This is the date on which a stock begins trading ex-dividend. It precedes the record date because the settlement of stock purchases takes time. If you buy shares on or after the ex-dividend date, you are not qualified to get the dividend.
Payment date. This is the day when the dividend is credited to shareholders' respective accounts.
When stocks pay dividends, that payout is taxable. So the dividend you should receive in your brokerage account will be after-tax.
$Apple(AAPL.US)$ announced financial results on July 27, 2021 for the third fiscal quarter of 2021, corresponding to the second calendar quarter of the year.
Meanwhile, the company declared a quarterly dividend payment of $0.22 per share, payable on August 12, 2021, to shareholders of record on August 9.
The list below highlights the most important information in respect of the dividend.
Dividend amount: $0.22 per share (before taxes)
Declaration date: July 27, 2021
Record date: August 09, 2021
Ex-dividend date: August 06, 2021
Payment date: August 12, 2021
To be more specific, if you bought 100 shares of Apple and held the shares after August 06, 2021, the ex-dividend date, you were eligible to receive a dividend of $22 ($0.22 ×100, before taxes), even if you had sold the shares ahead of August 12, the payment date.
Conversely, if you bought Apple stock on or after the ex-dividend date, you wouldn’t receive the dividend payment, even though you held the stock by the payment date.
How dividends affect the share price
Dividends affect the share price in several ways. However, it is worth noting that dividends do not increase shareholder wealth or market capitalization.
As a dividend payment leads to cash going out of the company, the share price often drops by a similar amount to the dividend on the ex-dividend date.
For example, a company announces a dividend of $2 per share on the declared date. If its stock trades at $100 per share a business day prior to the ex-dividend date, it will likely be adjusted by $2 and begins trading at $98 per share on the ex-dividend date.
Though dividends are not guaranteed to shareholders, many established companies pursue a prudent dividend policy. That's because if a company announces a lower dividend, it may indicate the company is short of cash or its business operation is getting worse, which could affect the share price.
Conversely, a higher dividend may signal that the company has become more profitable and investors can expect a higher stock price.