Global dividends forecast to fall as much as 35% in 2020: Janus Henderson

LONDON (Reuters) - Dividends paid to shareholders could fall by as much as 35% in 2020, as the coronavirus pandemic cuts companies’ profits, data from asset manager Janus Henderson showed on Monday.

FILE PHOTO: A trader wears a mask as he works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) as the building prepares to close indefinitely due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in New York, U.S., March 20, 2020. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Company profits and dividends are set to take a hit as the new coronavirus has spread around the world, having killed more 300,000 people worldwide and pushed U.S. unemployment to levels not seen since the Great Depression.

The level of uncertainty for the rest of the year is so high that Janus Henderson said there would be little value in giving a precise estimate on dividend payouts for 2020, and gave a range of scenarios instead.

In a best-case scenario, global dividends will drop by 15% to $1.21 trillion this year, while in a worst case scenario they could fall 35% to $933 billion, Janus Henderson said.

The asset manager tracked canceled and suspended dividend payouts from companies responsible for more than three quarters of the world’s payouts by value, taking into account factors such as the extent of the lockdown, local regulation and dividend seasonality.

Some regions could have bigger dividend cuts overall than in the financial crisis of 2008, the report said.

“Dividend suspensions are inevitable due to the sudden, unprecedented halt in economic activity in many countries,” said Ben Lofthouse, co-manager of global equity income at Janus Henderson.

“In some cases, dividend changes, along with executive pay moderation, are an acknowledgement or even requirement that shareholders should be part of society’s Covid-19 response,” Lofthouse added.

Banks, discretionary consumer sectors and economically-sensitive industrial sectors are expected to be most affected while dividends from technology, healthcare, food and basic consumer sectors should be safer, Janus Henderson’s report said.

North American dividends are likely to be less affected than Europe and the UK, partly because North America has a high exposure to technology.

The European Central Bank’s ban on dividend payouts by banks will remove one in every seven dollars’ worth of European dividend payouts in 2020, the report said.

Asia is expected to have less of an impact in 2020 and take a bigger hit in 2021 because in China and the rest of Asia companies have already fixed their payouts for this year based on profits from 2019.

The crisis had little impact on dividend payments in the first quarter of this year, when they rose 3.6% to $275.4 billion, a record high for a first quarter, pushing the Janus Henderson global dividend index to 196.3.

Fund managers whose portfolios rely on the payouts are looking for those most likely to deliver a sustainable yield when the world recovers.

But as the coronavirus and lockdown measures designed to contain the virus limit economic activity, consumer spending has seen record declines, leaving many companies facing an uncertain outlook.

Reporting by Elizabeth Howcroft. Editing by Jane Merriman