I recently got an email asking my views on investing for dividends, especially for retirement planning. I have never quite understood why there should be a difference between investing for dividends v/s for capital appreciation. My response (with light editing) follows the question below

Hi Rohit,
I have analyzed and concluded that a growth-based, active portfolio is not very suitable for retirement planning. One would have to shift towards a dividend-based, passive portfolio when one approaches retirement.

That way, one would not have to bother about the market gyrations and one can still receive an (almost) inflation-proof income flow. (Basically, I found that if the markets stay depressed for 5-7 years or more, one may have to sell a portion of the portfolio at unattractive price and that can start eroding the capital base very fast.)

I will be happy to know your views.

My response
Your question is very important.

I personally don’t subscribe to the view of investing for dividend v/s growth as I think they are two sides of the same coin. Let me explain

When selecting a company for the long term, we are looking for the following
a)    Company earning high return on capital with good cash flows
b)    Reasonable valuations
c)    Good capital allocation policy by management

if you are able to achieve  the above three criteria, you are assured of reasonable returns either through capital appreciation or dividend (and often both).

Let’s say the company is growing rapidly and able to invest the entire cash flow in the business. If the company makes 20%+ return on capital, then in such a case the company is growing at 20%+ rate if the re-investment rate is 100%. In such a case the value of the company will be increase by 3X time in 5-7 year. The market usually will not ignore the company and its stock price will increase too and you can always sell a small bit for income purpose.

The above case is usually in theory…high quality companies generally invest a large portion of their profits in the business and give a part out as dividend. If they can keep reinvesting the profit at a high rate of return, then they will hold the payout ratio constant (percentage of profit paid out). In such a case the dividend will grow at the rate of the profit growth, which is generally higher than the rate of inflation. An investor is thus getting an increasing dividend and should get a reasonable amount of capital appreciation too.

In case of some slow growing companies, if the company cannot re-invest a big portion of the profit into the business, then the amount paid out as dividend will start increasing at a rate faster than the profits. In such cases, one is making returns via dividends (assuming stock price remains constant). These companies are the equivalent of a high yield bond. This is what one may call investing for dividends, as one need not worry about the price of the stock (the dividend yield takes care of the income requirement)

In all the above cases, you are making a good return either through capital appreciation or dividend or in most cases, both. This again is not theory, as you will find this to be the case with a lot of high quality companies in India such as asian paints, nestle, Hero motors etc

What is required in the above cases is that the business is of high quality and management has good capital allocation skills (if it cannot use the profit, it returns it back to shareholder). If these conditions are not met, the stock price will start reflecting the poor performance and the dividends will weaken too.

If you accept what I am saying, you will understand why I don’t believe in dividend or growth investing. I would rather focus on the source of the returns (high quality business with good management and decent price) than the form of the returns (dividend v/s capital appreciation)


I did not cover some points in the email, which I am covering below

Issue of volatility and retirement
How should one manage the market volatility near retirement, when there is a possibility of a large drop in the portfolio at the time of need.

The iron rule of investing in stock markets (if there are any to begin with) is that one should never put that portion of capital in the market which may be required in the near future  (next 3-5 years). If you need the money for your kids education or marriage or some other purpose in the near future, put it in a fixed deposit ! period – there is no other sensible option. You should never be forced to sell at the wrong time (when the markets are weak)

Once you are closer to retirement, as any sensible financial advisor will tell you, you should start reducing the equity component to reduce the volatility in your portfolio. The exact calculation and approach is a bit detailed and beyond what I can cover in this post.

How am I planning for retirement? I don’t plan to retire 🙂

I am not joking. If you love what you do (in my case investing), why would you want to retire. If I retire, I will drive myself and my wife crazy.

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