In volatile markets investors may find comfort in dividends

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As uncertainty at home and abroad roils the financial markets, income-minded investors seeking protection from the bumpy road ahead may find dividend-paying stocks could offer an attractive mix of features and warrant a place in their equity portfolios.
The appeal is simple: Dividend-paying stocks can potentially provide investors with tangible returns on a regular basis regardless of market conditions.

The Benefits of Dividend-Paying Stocks

If you own stock in a company that has announced it will be issuing a dividend, or if you are proactively considering adding an allocation to dividend-paying stocks, history provides compelling evidence of the long-term benefits of dividends and their reinvestment.
  • A sign of corporate financial health. Dividend payouts are often seen as a sign of a company's financial health and management's confidence in future cash flow. Dividends also communicate a positive message to investors who perceive a long-term dividend as a sign of corporate maturity and strength.
  • A key driver of total return. There are several factors that may contribute to the superior total return of dividend-paying stocks over the long term. One of them is dividend reinvestment. The longer the period in which dividends are reinvested, the greater the spread between price return and dividend reinvested total return.
  • Potentially stronger returns, lower volatility. Dividends may help to mitigate portfolio losses when stock prices decline, and over long time horizons, stocks with a history of increasing their dividend each year have also produced higher returns with considerably less risk than non-dividend-paying stocks. For instance, over the 10 year period that ended December 31, 2015, the S&P 500 Dividend Aristocrats — those stocks within the S&P 500 that have increased their dividends each year for the past 25 years — produced annualized returns of 10.25% vs. 7.31% for the S&P 500 overall, with less volatility (13.99% vs. 15.06%, respectively).1
The Growth of Dividend-Paying Stocks, 1986-20152
The Growth of Dividend Paying Stocks 1986-2015
If you are considering adding dividend-paying stocks to your investment mix, keep the following thoughts in mind.
  • Dividend-paying stocks may help diversify an income-generating portfolio. Income-oriented investors may want to diversify potential sources of income within their portfolios. Given current realities present in the bond market, stocks with above-average dividend yields may compare favorably with bonds and may act as a buffer should conditions turn negative within the bond market.
  • Dividends benefit from continued favorable tax treatment. The extension of the Bush-era tax cuts helps to reinforce the current case for dividend stocks. The tax bill that passed in early 2013 made the 15% top tax rate on qualifying dividends and other forms of investment income permanent for most investors, though it did raise the top rate to 20% for certain high-income investors. However, this is still lower than the 39.6% top rate on ordinary income.3
Note that dividends can be increased, decreased, and/or eliminated at any time without prior notice.

1Return and standard deviation cover the 10-year period ended December 31, 2015. Volatility is measured by standard deviation. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

2Source: ChartSource®, ®, DST Systems, Inc. For the period from January 1, 1986, through December 31, 2015. Stocks are represented by the S&P 500 index. Stock prices are represented by the change in price of the S&P 500 index. It is not possible to invest directly in an index. Past performance is not a guarantee of future results. Copyright © 2017, DST Systems, Inc. All rights reserved. Not responsible for any errors or omissions. (CS000080)

3Neither Merrill Lynch nor any of its affiliates or financial advisors provide legal, tax or accounting advice. You should consult your legal and/or tax advisors before making any financial decisions.

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This material is authored by DST Systems, Inc. and was not authored by Merrill Edge. Assumptions, opinions and estimates constitute judgment from DST Systems, Inc. as of the date of this material and are subject to change without notice. Past performance does not guarantee future results. The information contained in this material does not constitute advice on the tax consequences of making any particular investment decision. This material does not take into account your particular investment objectives, financial situations or needs and is not intended as a recommendation, offer or solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security, financial instrument, or strategy. Before acting on any recommendation in this material, you should consider whether it is suitable for your particular circumstances and, if necessary, seek professional advice. Any opinions expressed herein are given in good faith, are subject to change without notice, and are only correct as of the stated date of their issue.

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