Hate Trump, love the divi

Scott Longley


Those of a squeamish disposition might want to look away now. Bigging up President Trump is clearly something he can do all by himself, but if dividend investors will have anyone to thank for their prosperity this year, then they might have to look in the direction of the orange glow from across the Atlantic.

The tax cuts legislation which was passed last year are undoubtedly a 'bigly' win. The corporate tax cut in particular is set to unleash what some are calling an investor bonanza as S&P 500 constituents are forecast to splash up to $1trn share buybacks and dividends.

The latter is what concerns us here.

As ETF Stream noted from the Inside ETFs show in Florida in January - just down the road from the winter White House in Mar a Lago it might be noted - the Trump dividend will be very real for those invested in income ETFs.

Panellists during one session at the show predicted that yields on income funds would rise from the hoped-for 5% percent in 2018 to 7% - a 40% overall boost. As we said at the time, this is a huge increase and provides an underpinning for more than just the income ETF sector.

This has been backed up by estimates from Goldman Sachs that suggested that dividends from US companies would rise 12% this year to $515bn. (it should be noted that investors will also benefit from a renewed and reinforced wave of share buybacks - Goldman Sachs estimates these will rise 23 percent this year to $650bn)

Winds of change

That is some largesse. So how can European investors benefit from the Trumpian windfall?

Oliver Smith, portfolio manager at IG points out that yield is traditionally quite hard to come by in the US market but he does point to a couple of examples of funds which can give investors on this side a taste of the US divi boost.

"The SPDR S&P US Dividend Aristocrats ETF (USDV) only buys companies which have increased their dividend every year for the past 20 years," he says. "Therefore, these are mature businesses with progressive dividend policies that have shown a willingness to make payments to shareholders and are likely to pass on the tax cuts rather than re-invest in their businesses."

He adds that those looking for more niche exposure could also consider the WisdomTree US Small Cap Dividend ETF (DESE), which yields 3%.

"It is thought that smaller sized companies could benefit most from the tax cuts as they currently have a higher median tax rate than the largest companies due to being less able to avoid tax by moving cash overseas," Smith adds.

Cohn air

The belief in January was that the tax cut boost could potentially be the magic carpet that would see the Republican Party ride all the way through to the mid-term elections in November. The bullishness was understandable.

However, the other consideration that investors might wish to bear in mind is that - as with all things Trump - the wind can change direction quickly. This dividend boom might be quite short-lived if Trump's baser instincts on trade and tariffs get a full airing.

The departure of Gary Cohn as chief economic adviser in the past week is an indication of how the chaos of the White House will often translate to wobbly markets. In this instance, Cohn's departure acts as a warning that US businesses will not benefit from a trade war any more than the rest of us.

The bullishness that pervaded the markets for the past year could all too easily vanish as quickly as a Big Mac meal in front of the President. Investors will be hoping that the hot air that has inflated the markets in the first year of the Trump presidency doesn't turn into trade war flatulence in the second.

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