What is the Value of Market Dividend Yields?

Blogging is often a cooperative venture, so this piece begins with thanks to three people:

When I read the piece at The Capital Spectator, my response was “Huh, neat article, wonder how it would look with a larger data set?”  Given Eddy’s help, I had that data set, and so I got to work.  Here is the main result:

The results at The Capital Spectator went from 1995 to 2003. My results go from 1871 to 2003. His results give a tight relationship, while mine indicate a loose relationship.  His R-squared was far  higher than my 7%.  Why?

In aggregate, many relationships in finance are tenuous.  Do interest rates mean-revert?  Yes, but the tendency is weak.  In this case, high dividend yields foreshadow high five-year total returns, but that tendency is weak.

In the graph above I tried to highlight the eras for different alignments of dividend yields and future five-year returns.  Depending on the era, the relationship of dividend yield to future returns differed.  In the long run, there is a weak positive relationship between dividend yields and total returns, but in the short run, many other factors predominate.

So what does this tell us?

  • Use larger data sets when possible.
  • Realize that many relationships in finance are not stable.  Indeed, that is a strength of Capitalism.  It adjusts to changing conditions, and is not stable.
  • When dividend yields are high the market is attractive.  Of course, factor in how high bond and cash yields are at the time.
  • Beware relying on intermediate-term relationships in quantitative finance.  They last for less than a decade.
  • Beware trusting correlation coefficients calculated over short intervals.
  • In finance, we know less than we think, so we should be cautious in our conclusions.
  • The best forecasts come when we are at extreme values of the system.  In the middle, everything is a muddle.

I am a firm believer in dividends. My portfolio has an above average dividend yield.  In general, high dividend yields pay off in investing, subject to credit quality.  But, the payoff varies over time; a heavy reliance on the dividend yield of the market as a sole indicator is not advised.