It has been a great year for dividend growth investors with over 60% of the S&P constituents increasing their dividend in 2007. On average the companies comprising the S&P 500 increased their dividend payments by a healthy 9.7%. Total dividends paid by S&P 500 companies broke a new record with a whooping $256.6 billion distributed to shareholders. This is up $31.8 billion from $224.8 billion in 2006.
According to S&P analysts dividends will continue to rise 2008 with the average estimated increase to be 9.3%. However, this growth is not expected to be evenly distributed amongst the S&P 500 group of companies. U.S financials are going to be the obvious laggards as virtually all growth in that sector is expected to be muted by the on going sub-prime fiasco. Many analysts are in fact predicting some significant dividend cuts from the large U.S financials, which account for 30% of the dividends paid by S&P constituent companies. Respected analysts such as Goldman Sach’s William Tanona, Betsy Miller and Neil Sanyal believe that Citigroup will have to cut their dividend by as much as 40% if the estimated $18.7 billion fourth quarter write down occurs.
Citi would not be unique as many other large financial players in the U.S have already slashed their dividend such as and Washington Mutual (WM – NEW YORK),Fannie Mae (FNM – NEW YORK) and Freddie Mac (FRE – NEW YORK).
My personal opinion is that 2008 will be a terrible year for large dividend paying U.S financials. However, I also believe that they will probably be over punished, over sold and possibly ignored by many investors. Thus creating the possibility of 2008 being a once in a decade buying opportunity for quality, dividend paying large cap U.S financials.