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Market View

Investors preparing for an increase in volatility may wish to consider a portfolio of dividend-growth stocks, which historically have provided a measure of protection during market downturns. 

While most investors recognize the long-term benefits of an allocation to equities, some are becoming increasingly worried about a pullback in the market. The chorus of market prognosticators and talking heads warning of a looming market correction (one that, however, has failed to materialize thus far) seems to be growing louder. In addition, history-minded investors may be keeping an eye on the calendar, remembering episodes of volatility that occurred in September and October of prior years. If they were equity investors, the characters in Game of Thrones might fret that “autumn is coming.”

However, for investors who need the growth potential of equities to meet their long-term goals, but are concerned about a market decline that might impede reaching those goals, there may be a way to remain invested in equities and stay on track, even if volatility resurfaces: an allocation to dividend-growth stocks.

As we have noted in past Market Views, attempts to time the market on a short-term basis are notoriously difficult to get right on a consistent basis, and the consequences of sitting on the sidelines during a market rally can be severe. In fact, over the past 25 years—representing more than 6,000 trading days—missing just the 10 best days in the market would have cut in half the ending value of a hypothetical equity portfolio. On the other hand, the record shows that patient equity investors have been rewarded: stocks have delivered positive returns in 95% of 10-year periods since 1927, and in 100% of the 20-year periods.

Nonetheless, many equity investors may still be tempted to try timing the market. They may believe that they possess a preternatural ability to predict the next market downturn, sidestep the decline, and then buy back into stocks at the bottom. Experience, however, demonstrates that such an outcome of uncanny timing is exceedingly rare. While one cannot predict the precise date of the next surge in volatility or correction in major indexes, history tells us that market declines are actually quite common, despite the abnormally placid market environment experienced through the first eight months of 2017. In fact, since 1980, the equity market has experienced an average intra-year decline of 14%. However, the average return for a full calendar year over this time period is 10%, including that drawdown average of 14%. Investors who sold during a downturn—or worse, near the bottom—may have missed out on the benefits of participating in the subsequent rebounds that took place in many of these years.

 

Chart 1. Equity-Market Drawdowns Are Common, but Don’t Always Translate into Full-Year Declines
Annual price returns versus maximum price decline, 1980–2016

Source: Morningstar. Data as of December 31, 2016.
Past performance is no guarantee of future results. The historical data are for illustrative purposes only, do not represent the performance of any specific portfolio managed by Lord Abbett or any particular investment, and are not intended to predict or depict future results. Indexes are unmanaged, do not reflect the deduction of fees or expenses, and are not available for direct investment.

 

Still, a calm, disciplined approach during a period of volatility may run counter to investor psychology, especially when confronted with the urge “to do something” during difficult times. The challenge for investors is to remain in the equity market through these declines so that they might be able to avoid the perils of market timing.

One potential solution to navigate choppier markets is a portfolio of companies that have a demonstrated track record of growing their dividends through various market environments. Companies with consistent dividend growth often are market leaders with stable business models, strong balance sheets, and management teams committed to shareholders. These high-quality, blue-chip companies historically have provided downside protection in market declines. (Remember that dividends are not guaranteed, and may be increased, decreased, or suspended altogether at the discretion of the paying company.)  In fact, as Table 1 demonstrates, during the most severe market decline of each of the past 10 years, a portfolio of dividend growers captured only 83% of the downside of the broader market.

 

Table 1. Dividend Growers Have Outperformed in Market Declines
S&P 500 Index return and downside capture of the S&P 900 10-Year Dividend Growth Index during the 10 largest intra-year periods of S&P 500 declines, 2007–2016

Source: Bloomberg and Lord Abbett. Maximum intra-year declines; start dates inclusive.
1S&P 900 10-Year Dividend Growth Index.
The Dividend Growth Index is the exclusive property of S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC. Under a contract with Lord Abbett, S&P Dow Jones administers, maintains, and calculates the Dividend Growth Index. S&P Dow Jones and its affiliates shall have no liability for any errors or omissions in calculating the Index. The historical data are for illustrative purposes only, do not represent the performance of any specific portfolio managed by Lord Abbett or any particular investment, and are not intended to predict or depict future results. Indexes are unmanaged, do not reflect the deduction of fees or expenses, and are not available for direct investment.
Past performance is no guarantee of future results. For illustrative purposes only and does not reflect any specific portfolio managed by Lord Abbett or any particular investment. Dividends are not guaranteed and may be increased, decreased, or suspended altogether at the discretion of the issuing company.

 

Over the past 10 years, a period encompassing a severe bear market along with many double-digit market declines amid a prolonged bull market, dividend growers have provided roughly 96% of the total return of the broader equity market (as represented by the S&P 500® Index). This full-cycle participation has allowed investors in dividend-growth stocks to participate in the long-term returns of the equity market, while providing a buffer in down markets to help combat an investor’s impulses to abandon his or her equity positions. (Remember that no investing strategy can overcome all market volatility or guarantee future results.) This “smoother ride” may help keep investors on track to meet their long-term growth objectives through the fall of 2017 and all the seasons that follow.

 

MARKET VIEW PDFs


  Market View

CONTRIBUTING STRATEGIST

RELATED FUND
The Calibrated Dividend Growth Fund invests primarily in stocks of large U.S. companies that have a history of increasing their dividends. Learn more.

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