Dividend Smoothing and Predictability
56 Pages Posted: 12 Oct 2008 Last revised: 16 Mar 2011
Date Written: November 19, 2010
The relative predictability of returns and dividends is a central issue since it forms the paradigm to interpret asset price variation. A little studied question is how dividend smoothing, as a choice of corporate policy, affects predictability. We show that, even if dividends are supposed to be predictable without smoothing, dividend smoothing can bury this predictability in a finite sample. We further show that aggregate dividends are dramatically more smoothed in the postwar period than before. Therefore, the lack of dividend growth predictability in the postwar period, as widely documented in the literature, does not necessarily mean that there is no cash flow news in stock price variations; rather, a more plausible interpretation is that dividends are smoothed. Using two alternative measures that are less subject to dividend smoothing -- net payout and earnings -- we reach the consistent conclusion that cash flow news plays a more important role than discount rate news in price variations in the postwar period. Our take-away messages are that (i) dividend smoothing can severely affect dividend predictability in a finite sample, (ii) there is significant cash flow news in stock price variations, and (iii) when smoothed, dividends do not represent well the outlook of future cash flows.
Keywords: Dividend-price ratio, earning-price ratio, dividend growth, earnings growth, predictability, dividend smoothing
JEL Classification: G12, E44
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation