How To Invest

3 Reasons Why Investing in the Highest Dividend Yield Stocks Will Lose You Money

“I invest only in the highest dividend yield stocks”.

This is one of the most common phrases you’ll hear when you talk to income investors. While it makes sense to go for a high a yield as possible if you’re seeking dividends, the question is — do the highest dividend yield stocks make you a winner overtime?

Ned Davis Research conducted a study and divided companies into five different categories – S&P 500, non-dividend payers, dividend payers, dividend growers & initiators, and highest yield.

Ned Davis Research wanted to know the returns of investing $10,000 in each of these categories from 1971 to 2013. Here are the results:

Source: Ned Davis Research
Source: Ned Davis Research

Dividend growers & initiators gave the highest return; $10,000 invested would give you a cool $559,700 beating the S&P 500 index. And surprisingly, the highest yield stocks would have lost you money; $10,000 there would have given you less than half your money back. Ouch!

Why is this so?

The key to investing for income is not to invest in the highest yield stocks but to invest in stocks that pay sustainable dividends. And if you dig deeper, you’ll realize why the highest yield stocks underperform in the long run. Here are three reasons:

  1. Highest dividend yields are usually due to special dividends. The key to investing for dividends is sustainability. This means that a company must be able to pay stable or increasing dividends for a prolonged period of time. Companies which give special dividends create an illusion of extremely high yield, which will attract investors, but is not sustainable in the long run. Special dividends are one-time dividends and uninformed investors who jump in thinking the company can continue to pay such high dividends will be sorely disappointed.
  2. The company may be cyclical in nature. Companies that are cyclical in nature tend to perform better during the boom times. When these cyclical companies are performing, they tend to pay high dividends creating an illusion of very high dividend yields. When this happens, these cyclical companies are usually at the top of the cycle. Hence, investors invest in cyclical companies because of the high attractive yield without realizing the business and economic cycle of these companies. When the cycle eventually goes down, these investors end up losing when stock prices fall and their dividends inevitably get cut.
  3. Highest yields are caused by depressed stock prices. Companies that have the highest yield may be due to depressed share prices. In many cases, a depressed share price could be due to a company’s weakening fundamentals and business model. If it continues and the company’s business environment gets more competitive, revenues and profits will fall, and investors will eventually see their dividends cut. Even though you might still receive your dividends every year (and falling), it is unable to compensate for the loss in stock prices as the company’s fundamentals continue to weaken.

[Pro Tip: If you are investing for income, then Here’s a Quick 7-Step Guide to Help You Become a Better Income Investor]

The Fifth’s Perspective

When looking for dividend stocks to invest in, always focus on the sustainability of dividends rather than highest yield alone. Always remember to exclude special dividends and avoid investing in cyclical companies for dividends. Ultimately, if you want to enjoy long-term growing dividends, you need to pick a company that has strong fundamentals and a superior business model that allows the company to grow its revenues and profits for many years to come.

[**F&B businesses are one of the easiest business to analyze for good capital returns. Do you know which local F&B companies actually make money outside of Singapore? Here are 4 of them… and each good companies to take note of: 4 Local F&B Companies That Make Money Outside Singapore ]

Victor Chng

Victor Chng is an equity investor and co-founder of The Fifth Person. Victor has also appeared on national radio on Money FM 89.3 for his views and opinions on how to invest successfully in the stock market, and his investment articles have been published on The Business Times and Business Insider. Victor represented Singapore in the 2008 TAFISA World Games in Busan, South Korea and was the 2008 IFMA World Muay Thai Championships bronze medalist, kicking some serious ass along the way.


  1. Fifth Person, I do not think your first chart above is accurate with regard to the return of the S&P 500. Per every online S&P 500 total return calculator I tried, the total return of the S&P 500 is far higher than what you show above. E.g. http://www.moneychimp.com/features/market_cagr.htm shows that $10k invested in the S&P 500 on 12/31/1971 would be worth over $600k by 12/31/2013 (dividends reinvested). I wonder whether you came across a chart from NDR that is erroneous and is no longer available. Other sites that have NDR charts examining stocks by dividend policy do not include returns for the S&P 500. I bet this is because these sites wanted to push potential customers towards DG stocks instead of an S&P 500 fund. I wish the results in that chart were true, but from years of experience, I know that the long-term returns of the S&P 500 are impressive compared to almost any category of stocks. (I prefer DG stocks, so ‘just saying.’)

    1. Hi there!

      Thanks for pointing this out. The Ned Davis chart above excludes dividends reinvested which is why the figure is lower.

      Then again, this goes to show the power of dividends (and reinvesting them!) which we, just like you, are a fan of as well 🙂

  2. Dear Fifth Person

    May I know where to find the original article by Ned Davis Research? I want to read the details.


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