Dividend Payout Ratio 101: What Every Investor Should Know

July 12, 20237 min read
Dividend Payout Ratio 101: What Every Investor Should Know
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Key Takeaways 

  • The dividend payout ratio indicates the amount of money a company is returning to shareholders, as opposed to the amount it is holding onto to, say, clear debt, reinvest in growth, or fortify cash reserves.
  • Because dividend payouts vary according to industry, the dividend payout ratio is most useful when making comparisons within sectors.
  • There are factors that impact the dividend payout ratio, including industry norms, growth prospects, and financial health.

The dividend payout ratio indicates the amount of money a company is returning to shareholders, as opposed to the amount it is holding onto to, say, clear debt, reinvest in growth, or fortify cash reserves. Key dividend investor information, all. 

By understanding the metric and dividend distribution patterns, investors can make better-informed decisions and help maximize returns. To that end, here is the dividend payout ratio: what it is, how to calculate it, and more.

What is a Dividend Payout Ratio?

“Dividend payout ratio” is the ratio of the total dividends paid to shareholders compared to the company’s net income. In other words, the term is the percentage of earnings paid to shareholders through dividends. 

Overall, the financial metric is used to determine a company’s dividend payment program’s sustainability. 

The company generally uses the sum that is not paid to shareholders to get rid of debt or reinvests it in central operations. 

Note that dividend payouts vary according to industry, thus the ratio is most useful when making comparisons within industries. Because real estate investment trusts – REITS — have tax favorability, for example, they are required to distribute at least 90 percent of earnings to shareholders. 

How Do You Calculate Dividend Payout Ratio?

Payout and retention are the two main types of dividend payouts. The calculation for the dividend payout ratio is the annual dividend per share divided by the earnings per share. The ratio may also be calculated as the dividends divided by net income:

Dividend Payout Ratio = Dividends Paid


                                         Net income

Also, the ratio may be calculated as:

Dividend Payout Ratio = 1 – Retention ratio

The retention ratio may also be expressed as:

Retention Ratio = EPS – DPS




EPS = Earnings per share

DPS = Dividends per share

While the dividend payout ratio gives the percentage of profits that a company pays to its shareholders, the retention ratio is the percentage of profits earned that the company keeps or reinvests.

What Does the Ratio Mean?

In terms of ratio interpretation, the company’s maturity level figures most prominently. For example, it is expected for a new, growing company that seeks to develop new products, and enter new markets, to reinvest nearly all its earnings. It would not be unusual for such a company to have a low or zero payout rate.

By contrast, a venerable, established company that barely returns anything to shareholders could try investors’ patience. And a high payout generally means that share prices likely will not swiftly appreciate, or that the company is seeking to obfuscate an unfavorable business situation. It could also mean that the company will likely not use capital to expand.

Factors that Affect Dividend Payout Ratios

There are factors that impact the dividend payout ratio, including industry norms,

growth prospects, and financial health.

It is important for a company to factor in future earnings expectations and figure out a forward-looking payout ratio, particularly when seeking to give context to a bad financial year. Further, a ratio that is steadily rising could mean a business that is thriving and maturing. However, a ratio that is spiking could signal a dividend that is ultimately unsustainable. So, it all depends.

Further, dividend payouts vary depending on the sector, and so are most helpful when apples are compared to apples.

Looking at factors separately:

  • Profitability. A company will only pay dividends if it has turned a profit. The amount of said profits will also determine the proportion of dividends distributed to shareholders.
  • Dividend payment history. Usually, a company with a track record of paying dividends wants to keep that up. Investors typically go here for steady dividend income.
  • Growth plans and fund availability. If a business has plans to expand, it might retain its profits. On the other hand, the company might pay dividends if its retained earnings are sufficient to fund its expansion.
  • Industry dividend trends. To retain their shareholders, companies might match the dividend trends in existence in their industry. 

Comparing Dividend Payout Ratios

To see where the company stands in the industry overall, and market in general, it is important to compare the dividend payout ratio with competitors. In doing so, they can discover a company’s position within a market.

Investors who rely on their portfolios to generate income for everyday living depend on a regular stream of dividend payments. Some investors simply enjoy the dividend contribution to their overall return from their investment, as well as the added security.

However, assessing the dividends paid by two or more different companies is not exactly cut and dried. The dividend yield must first be determined, and for that, the market value of each stock is needed. Usually, the yield is calculated utilizing its indicated dividend, which is the sum that would be paid over the next year – if each dividend were the same as the latest one.

Dividend Payout Ratio and Valuation

The dividend payout ratio is directly related to the valuation of the company. In fact, the ratio can affect stock valuation by offering insights into a company’s growth potential, dividend policy, and overall financial health.

In other words, if the dividend yield varies markedly from historical levels or is substantially different from comparable companies, it can indicate whether a stock is trading for an improved – or diminished – valuation. If the yield is significantly higher than comparable companies, that can be a warning sign.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Stock Dividends

As with most financial metrics, there are benefits and drawbacks to employing a dividend payout ratio.

On the plus side:

  • The payout ratio does not impact the company’s cash balance
  • A drop in share price could lure new investors
  • Taxes are not due on dividends until the stock is sold.

On the drawbacks side:

  • Share price is diluted by bonus shares
  • Stock dividends could signal that a company is unstable
  • Share dividends could be less desirable to some investors than cash dividends

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While not a perfect tool, dividend investors can utilize the dividend payout ratio to locate companies that have the flexibility to reward them routinely with more future dividend income. 

Before investing in companies that provide dividends, one must consider the company’s dividend policy, which can be influenced by factors including dividend payment history, profitability, growth plans, industry trends, and fund availability.

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