If you own a conventional dividend company—let’s go with Colgate-Palmolive as an example—there are three techniques (buybacks, volume growth, and raised prices) to raise profits that principally flow from two sources (the volume growth and raised prices). In other words, if you sell toothpaste, the way you make higher profits is by increasing the amount of toothpaste you sell and/or raising the cost you charge your customers for each tube. If you do at least one of those successfully, you might also engage in a stock repurchase program that destroys some of the ownership units so that the remaining shares can lay a greater claim on profits.
This is a rare topic that I haven’t gotten to address yet explicitly, and I’m glad I now get the chance—I recently heard from a reader who mentioned that she enjoys her job, is quite good at it, is certain of her job security, and does not see the point in investing.
It’s a perfectly fair question, and I’m glad she asked me it.
Here’s how I think about it.
Part of my explanation has to deal with seeking prosperity, and the other part of my explanation has to deal with ensuring survival.
Realty Income is an interesting company for a couple of reasons: the starting yield is usually high, with investors throughout much of its publicly traded life being able to establish a position with an initial yield of at least 5%. The dividend grows each year, which is an unusual characteristic once you leave the tobacco, telecom, and oil industries (although real estate can be a close fourth). And the dividends get paid out monthly, giving you the ability to instantly compound because your dividend income immediately buys new shares every month that then start paying out dividends all of their own.
Every now and then, you stumble across a company that does not show up on the radar of many investors, often due to its size, lack of a dividend, or decidedly unsexy business model that nevertheless ends up producing a whole lot of money for people that start a position in the stock and hold on to it for a few years. One company that falls into that category is Autozone.
What has the car part replacer done over the past ten years? Two things have happened at this business: one, they have rolled out new stores across the United States, increasing the store count from 3400 to a little over 5000. This has enabled the company to grow its profits from $500 million per year to a little over $1 billion per year. Given that there is no dividend, you might imagine that shareholders have doubled their money over the past ten years.
We’ll abandon the site’s namesake for the day and talk about times when it makes sense to buy shares of stock in a company that does not pay any dividends to shareholders. Generally speaking, the best candidates for these types of purchases are companies that offer a higher earnings per share rate than what you’d get from buying a traditional dividend stock.
After all, if you see a non-dividend paying company growing at 7-8%, why not just purchase BP and enjoy the added benefits of a high dividend that can reinvested and boost your annual income? Sometimes, you have a situation like DirecTV or AutoZone where the company is growing at a high-single dit pace, but is repurchasing stock instead of paying out a dividend, and thus can offer shareholders a total return in the 11-15% annual range.