There are different kinds of investment strategies that we can adopt as investors. In Singapore, one popular investment strategy would be dividend investing. Dividend investing is a method of investing in stocks to generate dividend income from these investments.
Dividend investing is somewhat similar to income investing, with the key difference being that dividend investing involves choosing stocks that can generate income for us. This could be for funding our (early) retirement, building a secondary source of passive income, or reinvesting back into our portfolio.
Dividend Income in Singapore Stocks Are Tax Exempted
In Singapore, dividend investing is particularly popular because Singapore (like Hong Kong) does not impose any withholding tax on dividends. This means that investors, be it Singaporeans or non-Singaporeans, do not have to pay any taxes on dividends. This is unlike if we, as Singapore investors, were to invest in US stocks or ETFs where we will be charged a 30% withholding tax as a non-US tax resident.
Do note that Singapore practices a one-tier corporate tax system. This means that most companies would already be paying corporate income tax as an entity, and any dividends they declare for their shareholders are generally tax exempted. There are exceptions, and you can find out more from IRAS on what these scenarios are.
Similarly, if you invest in a REIT, there is no dividend tax either. You do not have to pay corporate income tax for REITs as long as it distributes at least 90% of the taxable income as dividends each year.
By now, you can probably understand why dividend investing is so popular among Singaporean investors. The irony is that it’s actually more efficient to collect dividend income than to work because your dividend income is not taxable, yet your employment income is.
Investing In Blue-Chip Companies & REITs For Dividend Income
Singapore blue-chip companies with strong and stable cash flow tend to be favoured by dividend investors. These companies usually have a business moat that helps to maintain their competitive advantages over others, allowing them to sustain long-term profits and payout stable dividends to their shareholders.
An example would be our local banks. Our three local banks – DBS, OCBC, UOB – pay out a dividend income between 3 to 5%, depending on how much their share prices are trading. They are able to do so because they are not only profitable companies but also in a strong cash flow position.
Singapore REITs are another popular investment if we want to enjoy dividend income. It’s common to see Singapore REITs with a dividend yield of about 5% or more.
Once again, this depends on the price that you invest in. The more popular a stock is, the higher the price it will be and consequently, the lower the dividend yield will be. The opposite holds true. A stock that is being shunned by investors will be trading at a lower price and thus, has a higher dividend yield.
Higher Yields Do Not Equate Into Better Investments
This brings us to another important point for dividend investing. A stock with higher dividend yields does not necessarily equate to a better investment option for dividend investors.
If a company share prices drop because investors are concerned about its future earnings, or its ability to sustain its dividend payout, then share prices will naturally decline as a result of its poor sentiment. However, if we were to calculate its past dividend payout based on its current (lower) price, then we will get a pseudo high dividend yield.
For example, in the case of SingTel, its dividend yield has always been one of the reasons why Singapore investors are attracted to invest in it.
In 2021, SingTel has been trading at between $2.30 to $2.50. If we calculate SingTel’s 2020 total dividend payout ($0.1225) based on an average price of $2.40, we would have got a dividend yield of 5.1%. On paper, this looks pretty impressive.
However, if we take a closer look at SingTel’s dividend history, we would have noticed that SingTel’s total dividend payout in 2020 actually declined by 30% compared to 2019. To add on, the dividend paid out in 2021 at 7.5 cents was also lower by about 38% compared to 2020.
So, while the yield of 5.1% (assuming an average price of $2.40 in 2021) looks good compared to the 2020 dividend payout, it doesn’t consider that earnings and thus payouts might continue declining. In fact, if we look at SingTel’s share price ($2.65 as of 8 April 2022) and compare it to the 2021 dividend payout, the yield is only 2.8% currently. All of a sudden, the company looks less attractive as a dividend stock.
Fortunately, in 2022, SingTel has managed to increase its dividend payout to 9.3 cents as compared to 7.5 cents in 2021. Based on the current share price of $2.38 as of 21 October 2022, this puts the dividend yield at 3.9%, more attractive than the 2.8% it was at earlier this year.
This is a good reminder for investors that investing in a company simply because of a high dividend yield can be dangerous. What is more important is to look at the quality of the company’s earnings, and whether the dividend payouts can be sustainable or even grow over time.
Dividend Investing Isn’t Necessarily Safer
With dividend investing, we are usually investing in the stocks of companies that are profitable. After all, it would not be possible for companies to continue paying dividends each year if they are not profitable in the first place. This gives rise to a misconception that dividend investing is a safe investment strategy. However, this is not exactly true.
Investors can (knowingly or unknowingly) invest in high dividend yield companies that may not be considered strong companies. An example would be Pacific Century Regional Development (SGX: P15). While it has a current yield of about 8%, the company is making losses. Even if a company gives a high yield – if it has a downward-trending share price – the gains made from our dividends will eventually be offset by the lower share price.
The takeaway here is that dividend investing is neither safer nor riskier compared to other investment strategies like value investing or growth investing. Rather, it’s the companies that we choose to invest in that will determine the level of risk we are taking on in our investment portfolio.
Reinvesting Your Dividends
The dividend income that we earn from our investments can be deployed in any manner we choose. If we are in a retirement phase, the dividend income can be used for our daily living expenses. For those who don’t need the income yet, the dividends can be reinvested in the stock market. We can invest it back in the same stock, or other stocks we choose.
In fact, it’s probably a good idea to diversify our investment portfolio so that we select dividend stocks from various industries, sectors and geographical regions.
Dividend & Income Investing Via Robo-Advisor Portfolios
If we want to invest for dividends and income but are unsure of what stocks to purchase, or are not inclined to manage our portfolio, we can consider investing in an income portfolio via a robo-advisory platform such as Endowus Income. These are portfolios that are built with resiliency in mind, to manage risk through market volatility and changing macro environments.
Investors can choose from three different portfolios – Stable Income, Higher Income & Future Income. According to Endowus, income payouts range from 3.0% to 6.0% per annum. Payouts are also distributed monthly, making it useful for those of us who are reliant on the income for our retirement. You can read more on our review of how Endowus Income can help us build a retirement portfolio.
For those who prefer to invest in Singapore REITs, we can also use robo-advisory portfolio such as the Syfe REIT+ to give us broad-based exposure to S-REITs. Syfe REIT+ chooses 20 high-quality REITs to invest in for the portfolio. The portfolio has exposure across various sectors such as industrial, retail, office, residential, and others. It also uses the ABF Singapore Bond Index Fund. This allows it to gain diversification into an ETF, which invests in high-quality Singapore government bonds. The advantage with Syfe REIT+ is that you have the option to automatically reinvest your dividends.
Financial Ratios For Dividend Investors
Here are a few key financial ratios that you should know as a dividend investor:
Dividend Payout Ratio: This refers to how much of the company’s profits are paid out as dividends to their shareholders. You can calculate it by taking the dividend per share (DPS) and dividing it by the earnings per share (EPS).
Free Cash Flow to Equity: Free cash flow is the amount of cash generated by a business that is available to be distributed as dividends to shareholders. It is calculated by following formula:
Cash from operation – Capex + net debt issued
Free Cash Flow to Equity reveals if the dividend paid out by the company comes from its free cash flow or other forms of financing. If the Free Cash Flow to Equity is lower than the dividend payment, it means the company is funding the dividend via debt or existing capital it has.
Read Also: Guide To Value Investing In Singapore
When it comes to dividend investing, we should not invest in a particular stock just because of its high dividend yield. We need to analyse deeper by looking at its historical performance and various financial ratios to make a more well-informed decision.
This article was first published on 2 June 2021 and has been updated with the latest information.
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