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03 Jul 2017

Good yield hunting


How to find income in Europe: An interview with Andrew Lapthorne

  • Superficially at least, dividend payouts across the globe look robust. Companies are growing their payouts in most major markets, fuelled by rising earnings
  • Scratch beneath the surface however and the picture is less clear cut. Dividend cover is stretched thin in some parts of the world
  • There are also risks associated with a change in monetary policy direction, so selectivity is vital
  • We spoke to Andrew Lapthorne, the man behind our quality income strategies, to find out more  

Andrew Lapthorne

Andrew Lapthorne, Global Quantitative Research Strategist, Creator of SG Quality Income indices

What do your quality income indices tend to hold?  

In our SG quality income indices, we tend to have significant and long-lasting exposures to countries where the dividend regimes are tax-friendly and well-established like Canada and Australia. We also favour countries where the right kinds of businesses have established a firm foothold, such as pharmaceutical companies in the UK, or consumer goods producers in Switzerland. 

There are plenty of high quality businesses in the US, but the substitution of dividend payment with share buybacks means we don’t often find good enough companies with high enough dividend yields. Europe and Asia, with their higher propensity to pay dividends, are better hunting grounds.


Your European strategy is yielding more than 4.5%, how? 

As I’ve said, Europe is good ground for income seekers. The region’s dividend yield of 3.3% is much higher than the MSCI World’s 2.4% although, as SG Research shows below, individual country results vary quite widely. That 3.3% may not be quite as high as the FTSE 100 in the UK, but the dividend pool is far deeper and payouts far less concentrated. 

In SG’s view, prospects also look bright, after a Q1 earnings season far stronger than anything we’ve seen since 2010. Yet there is still plenty of room to grow. Earnings are 25% below the 2007 peak, vs. 11% above in the US.

Read more on our ETF


Discovering dividends in Europe 

Country Dividend Yield* Vs Europe* % of market cap yielding 4%+** Market-cap €1bn+ % and 4%+**


2.1% -1.2% 12.7% 10.3%


3.1% -0.2% 21.1% 19.4%
Denmark 2.1% -1.2% 4.7% 40.1%
Finland  3.9% +0.6% 34.1% 31.8%
France 3.0% -0.3% 29.0% 28.2%
Germany  2.6% -0.7% 20.8% 19.9%
Ireland 1.4% -1.9% 4.0% 0.0%


3.9% +0.6% 40.4% 39.7%
Netherlands 2.5% -0.8% 24.1% 23.0%
Norway 4.4% +1.1% 52.9% 50.3%
Portugal 4.4% +1.1% 38.1% 30.4%
Spain 4.0% +0.7% 37.6% 36.9%


3.3% 0% 34.2% 34.1%
Switzerland 3.1% -0.2% 11.6% 10.9%
UK 3.9% +0.6% 45.1% 42.4%

Source: *SG Research “The Big Picture”, 1 June 2017. **Thomson Reuters, Datastream. 29 June 2017.

Does that make it hard to identify the right kind of company?  

While those headline figures might suggest it’s tricky for our European quality income index - which insists on a yield of 4% as one of its three core entry requirements - to find the right kind of company, the underlying data tells a slightly different story. Around a third of the global 4% dividend yield universe can be found in Europe, and around 30% of European stocks come with a yield of 4% or more. In fact, the ground is fertile enough for us to keep delivering a yield well in excess of 4.5%. 


Regions: Defining the 4%+ yield universe (by number of stocks)

Regions: Defining the 4%+ yield universe (by number of stocks)

Do you worry about dividend cuts?

Of course! Our research suggests there are typically 40-80 cuts of 10%+ in the STOXX 600 each year. Avoiding them is the key to decent yield and returns. After all, a high yield isn’t always a good yield, and often signifies something else entirely. There will be some companies where the dividend is high because there is an element of distress. We’ve no interest in these companies. Our focus is on balance sheet strength, and those less fashionable, more mature companies that can pay and can keep paying a high dividend. They still represent a solid, low risk investment.


Do benchmarks bother you?

Put simply, no. Our search for the companies most capable of keeping their dividend promises leads to significant country and sector overweights relative to the MSCI Europe. Spain, Finland, Belgium and Austria are among our key mainland exposures, but the UK - one of Europe’s highest-yielding major indices - is one of our most significant underweights. Big-hitters like Germany and France are also under-represented.  

Read more on targeting income 


What about at the sector level?

Again, the answer is no. SG Research suggests that all European equity sectors currently offer a dividend yield in excess of the 10-yr bund. Six even offer a yield greater than 4%, but our search currently focuses on areas like utilities, telecoms and consumer services because that’s where the quality we need is. Right now, we don’t hold any basic resources stocks. We’ve never held any financials. 

Banks may now be returning more money to their investors, but there is no systematic way of understanding the leverage on a bank’s balance sheet. The balance sheet determines the dividends, so we cannot invest. We do review this policy from time to time, but have yet to see a compelling enough methodology to cause us to change it.

We have no preconceptions about where best to find income, so large country or sector over/underweights are natural. Worrying about risk relative to a benchmark is an unnecessary distraction. 

Watch our video 

Weight watchers

All the stocks in our portfolios are equally weighted, so individual weightings are likely to differ as much as countries or sectors. These are unusual times for income seekers and it pays to be discerning and to have conviction. Parts of the market may see dividend cuts: Isolating and avoiding the most vulnerable companies is key for long-term, sustainable returns.  



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