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The Alchemist (09/08/2004)
By Al Thomas


     
DIVIDENDS

When is a dividend not a dividend?

The latest thing "conservative" brokers are preaching these days is to buy stocks that pay dividends. Everyone likes dividends. I know I do, but when Wall Street tells me something I am automatically suspicious because they lie to me every day. Is this a new scam? Let's take a look.

When you buy a bond or a CD at the bank it pays interest and is a real dividend. You might get a check every month, quarter or annually or receive a credit to your account. The amount of your principal (what you paid for it) remains the same. Yes, that is a true dividend.

Companies make big splashes about raising their dividend. It was 50 cents per share, but we have raised it to $1.00. Big deal. Yes, you will receive a check and at least you know the company has cash available to pay you. That is an indication the company is in good financial condition, but there have been many of the big names on the NYSE that have continued dividends even when they have lost money. How can that be?

Currently Microsoft has announced a dividend of $3.00 per share. The talking heads on CNBC-TV tell us they are loaded with cash and want to distribute it to their stockholders. Many people buy the stock in anticipation of the dividend as they think they will be getting an extra $3.00 per share. They are in for a big surprise.

The day that dividend is paid Microsoft stock (symbol MSFT) will automatically drop $3.00 per share. Today $27.00; tomorrow $24.00. Folks, this is NOT a dividend. This is a distribution of capital. You are being paid in your own asset. The fool that believes the Wall Street mumbo-jumbo will not have one extra penny after the dividend than he did before. In fact he will have less. Why?

The stockholder will now be allowed to pay income tax on the "dividend" distribution. To make that "dividend" seem even better the Bush administration has reduced dividend taxes from 38.6% to 15%. Thanks, Mr. Bush. Thanks for nothing. I can't blame him for more Maul Street smoke and mirrors. He has just made it cost less to get back your own money.

Companies seldom pay large dividends and they are paid quarterly. A $30 stock that pays a 4% dividend ($1.20) on a quarterly basis shows a decrease in the stock price that day of 30 cents per share and is lost in the noise of trading. Few notice that part of the price change is due to the "dividend".

When you own the stock of any company the most important criteria is to find one that is in a long term upward trend. Never buy a stock that is showing a decline no matter how "good" the company may be. Even sideways movements should be avoided. Keep in mind you are buying the stock to make money. Forget the dividends and all other "reasons" and remember if it isn't going up, don't buy it! 

 

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