Scott Kelly’s Opinion
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 calendar year dividend expectations for the ASX 200 have fallen from about $73 billion to around $58 billion, which is broadly the same level of dividends that were paid in 2013.
However, we believe dividends will recover quickly, with 2022 underlying dividends expected to be broadly in-line with 2019 – this ignores special dividends that were paid ahead of Labor’s proposed franking policy changes.
There have been dividend winners and losers with companies in the financials sector hit hard with recession headwinds and regulatory intervention, whilst resources companies have been faring well, as high commodity prices help generate significant free cash.
This is a good reminder for investors that sources of yield shift over time. Active portfolio management and stock selection can therefore have a significant impact on income generation.
Why income from shares will be an important source of returns
All things considered, we expect income from equities will continue to be an important source of return for investors for four key reasons.
- The yield on equities is still very attractive relative to alternatives: The dividend yield for 2021 and 2022 is forecast to be 4-5% plus franking, compared to cash rates and fixed interest products below 1%.
- Dividends will continue to be a large contributor to market returns, having contributed approximately half the ASX 200 index returns for decades.
- Franking benefits are unique to the Australian market and provide a source of upside for domestic investors – particularly for retirees. Each year the portfolio typically receives dividends with around 78% franking attached.
- Dividends have rebased with upside potential as revenues and dividend payout ratios normalise over the coming years.
Four ASX dividend stock picks
At DNR Capital we continue to position the fund in high-quality businesses that offer a combination of attractive dividend income, growth, franking benefits and importantly, valuation support. We like the following four companies:
IPH (ASX: IPH)
IPH provides intellectual property, patent and trade mark services across Australia, New Zealand and Asia. Its defensive characteristics, robust patent filing volumes and strong progress on the synergies from recent acquisitions were key highlights from reporting season. The stock is delivering a gross yield of around 6%pa with high single digit growth and potential acquisitions should also serve as a catalyst.
Atlas Arteria (ALX)
ALX is a global owner, operator and developer of toll roads, with a portfolio of four toll roads in France, Germany and the United States. Following a significant decline in traffic earlier in the year, traffic quickly rebounded on the main asset in France. Escalating COVID-19 case numbers and new lock-down restrictions in France have stalled the traffic recovery, however they are stabilising 10-15% below pre-COVID-19 levels. This implies free cash flow of up to around 40 cents per share, which translates into a dividend yield of around 6%pa at current prices.
BHP Group (BHP)
BHP offers ongoing earnings growth potential from its iron ore and copper exposure, with leverage to an eventual global economic recovery through coal and energy resources. In particular, iron ore prices continue to be robust given ongoing strong China demand; Brazil supply constraints and contracting economic output in world-ex China. Dividend yields of mid-single digits are supported by free cash flow yields in the high single and double digits over the next two to three years.
Telstra Corporation (TLS)
Telstra has not been immune from COVID-19 disruption with some negative one-off impacts from lower international roaming charges, customer incentives and delayed synergies hitting both FY20 and FY21 earnings. The market appears to have focused on the risk to the 16 cents per share dividend from a lowering of near-term return on investment capital targets. In our view, the competitive environment in mobile is rational and will see improving earnings over the next few years. As such, we think the 16 cents per share is sustainable, and represents an attractive gross yield of around 8%pa at current prices.
We believe that a growing dollar income over time will deliver a positive outcome for income-seeking investors as they look to offset inflation and look to maintain lifestyles into retirement.
Despite the challenging times we believe ASX dividends still remain very attractive, investors just need to be active and targeted.
Cover image source: Wright Studio (Shutterstock)
About Scott Kelly
Scott Kelly joined DNR Capital in August 2015 and is Portfolio Manager for the Australian Equities Income Portfolio. He is also responsible for the investment research of the telecommunications, transport, utilities, infrastructure, and media sectors. Scott has over 19 years of investment experience, and holds a Bachelor of Commerce from the University of Queensland and is a Chartered Accountant with the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Australia and New Zealand, a CFA charter holder and a Graduate member of the Australian Institute of Company Directors.