The Information Content of Dividends: Safer Profits, Not Higher Profits

Roni Michaely, Stefano Rossi, Michael Weber

NBER Working Paper No. 24237
Issued in January 2018
NBER Program(s):Asset Pricing, Corporate Finance, Public Economics

Contrary to the central predictions of signaling models, changes in profits do not empirically follow changes in dividends, and firms with the least need to signal pay the bulk of dividends. We show both theoretically and empirically that dividends signal safer, rather than higher, future profits. Using the Campbell (1991) decomposition, we are able to estimate expected cash flows from data on stock returns. Consistent with our model's predictions, cash-flow volatility changes in the opposite direction from that of dividend changes, and larger changes in volatility come with larger announcement returns. We find similar results for share repurchases. Crucially, the data support the prediction---unique to our model---that the cost of the signal is foregone investment opportunities. We conclude that payout policy conveys information about future cash-flow volatility.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w24237

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