An announcement this morning from Alliance Trust (ATST) says that the board has concluded that an increased dividend “will benefit existing shareholders and enhance the attractiveness of the Company’s shares”. They expect the overall annual dividend to increase by 32.5% over the 2020 dividend. The proposed increase will be well covered by distributable reserves and income it is suggested although no doubt some of the extra dividend cost will come from capital.
ATST had a reported yield of 1.43% last year according to the AIC which is the figure a lot of private investors look at when identifying good investments, when they should be looking at total return and overall performance. So far as the tax position of most private investors are concerned, turning capital growth into dividend income is a mistake as they will end up paying more tax. If they need more cash income they could simply sell some shares.
As with City of London Investment Trust I recently commented upon, and as very evident at their AGM, the emphasis on dividends paid by the trust, and growth in them, is apparently aimed at pleasing investors when investors are being fooled by the cash they see coming in when total return including capital growth is what they should really be paying attention to.
There are some interesting comments on Alliance Trust by Mark Northway in the latest ShareSoc Informer newsletter published today. He points out that the change to a “best ideas” portfolio approach managed by Willis Towers Watson since 2017 has not returned significantly above average performance after costs as anticipated. A huge amount of effort has been put in with little benefit he suggests. But perhaps that just shows how difficult it is to beat index benchmarks consistently particularly when the trust’s portfolio is so diversified. At least the trust’s performance is no worse than its benchmark as used to be the case before the revolution and appointment of a new manager.
As part of my “barbell” portfolio I am happy with the performance of Alliance Trust but I would have preferred them not to increase the dividend. I barely need to the cash as household expenditure is sharply down in the last year due to self-isolation from Covid. I’ll end up reinvesting the dividend cash after paying tax on it, when Alliance could do that for me tax free!
Roger Lawson (Twitter: https://twitter.com/RogerWLawson )