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Suppose company X has a policy of never giving out dividends and this policy will never change.

Now suppose company X doubles its earnings every year. Will its stock prices go up? Sure, the company is growing but since dividends will never be paid, stocks will always only constitute voting rights. Would that be enough to increase the stock price substantially (say, doubling it, assuming a constant P/E ratio) ?

I know that stock prices should go up as earnings go up, but it is my understanding that this happens because of higher demand from investors, who believe other investors in turn will want it even more in the future (and be willing to pay more than the former). Obviously there should be some "last" investor in that chain who wants the stock for what it is (voting rights + dividends) and not just as leverage to sell later.

I'm just trying to figure out if I got it about right, and if so, the weight of the voting rights as opposed to dividend yield with regard to investor valuation.

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3 Answers 3

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Stock prices are set by the market - supply and demand. See Apple for example, which is exactly the company you described: tons of earnings, zero dividends.

The stock price goes up and down depending on what happens with the company and how investors feel about it, and it can happen that the total value of the outstanding stock shares will be less than the value of the underlying assets of the company (including the cash resulted from the retained earnings).

It can happen, also, that if the investors feel that the stock is not going to appreciate significantly, they will vote to distribute dividends. Its not the company's decision, its the board's. The board is appointed by the shareholders, which is exactly why the voting rights are important.

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I can't upvote yet, but thanks! So I guess voting rights are the most important after all, since ultimately they can affect dividends (among many other things). –  t0x1n Jan 31 '13 at 19:51
    
By the way, what happens if the owner of the company has 51% of the shares and he always vetoes motions for dividends ? I guess that wouldn't make sense, considering he'll be getting 51% of the dividends ? –  t0x1n Jan 31 '13 at 21:30
    
@t0x1n nothing much. There are some rules about majority holders oppressing the minority holders, but generally if 50%+1 shareholders vote against dividends - there are no dividends. You have to take that into account when buying the shares. –  littleadv Jan 31 '13 at 21:33
    
thanks again! But like you said, if it's in the interest of the shareholders, they'll vote for it so I suppose that settles it ! –  t0x1n Jan 31 '13 at 21:37
    
investor.apple.com/faq.cfm?FaqSetID=1 notes that Apple does have a cash dividend coming later this year as on Jan. 23, the board voted to have a dividend. –  JB King Feb 4 '13 at 18:12
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Berkshire Hathaway would be a good example of a company that has yet to pay dividends, yet is a highly valued stock.

A couple of key points here to note is how on the first hand you have that the dividend policy will never change, yet couldn't one argue that there will always be new investors wanting more shares and thus the price keeps going up until someone gains control and decides to issue dividends? I'm just pointing out how on the one hand you are claiming a never changing and yet on the other thinking there will be a termination when the reality is that unless there is a zombie apocalypse of some form, life will continue and there will be new people to want to buy the stock and some people be willing to sell at the new prices.

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Yes, the new people will want to buy the stock because eventually they believe, even if it stops growing, it will indeed change the dividend policy (because it will be in the interest of the shareholders to do so). So I guess the never changing policy didn't make sense to begin with. –  t0x1n Feb 1 '13 at 12:54
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A stock, at its most basic, is worth exactly what someone else will pay to buy it right now (or in the near future), just like anything else of value. However, what someone's willing to pay for it is typically based on what the person can get from it.

There are a couple of ways to value a stock. The first way is on expected earnings per share, most of would normally (but not always) be paid in dividends. This is a metric that can be calculated based on the most recently reported earnings, and can be estimated based on news about the company or the industry its in (or those of suppliers, likely buyers, etc) to predict future earnings. Let's say the stock price is exactly $100 right now, and you buy one share. In one quarter, the company is expected to pay out $2 per share in dividends. That is a 2% ROI realized in 3 months. If you took that $2 and blew it on... coffee, maybe, or you stuffed it in your mattress, you'd realize a total gain of $8 in one year, or in ROI terms an annual rate of 8%. However, if you reinvested the money, you'd be making money on that money, and would have a little more. You can calculate the exact percentage using the "future value" formula. Conversely, if you wanted to know what you should pay, given this level of earnings per share, to realize a given rate of return, you can use the "present value" formula. If you wanted a 9% return on your money, you'd pay less for the stock than its current value, all other things being equal. Vice-versa if you were happy with a lesser rate of return. The current rate of return based on stock price and current earnings is what the market as a whole is willing to tolerate. This is how bonds are valued, based on a desired rate of return by the market, and it also works for stocks, with the caveat that the dividends, and what you'll get back at the "end", are no longer constant as they are with a bond.

Now, in your case, the company doesn't pay dividends. Ever. It simply retains all the earnings it's ever made, reinvesting them into doing new things or more things. By the above method, the rate of return from dividends alone is zero, and so the future value of your investment is whatever you paid for it. People don't like it when the best case for their money is that it just sits there.

However, there's another way to think of the stock's value, which is it's more core definition; a share of the company itself. If the company is profitable, and keeps all this profit, then a share of the company equals, in part, a share of that retained earnings. This is very simplistic, but if the company's assets are worth 1 billion dollars, and it has one hundred million shares of stock, each share of stock is worth $10, because that's the value of that fraction of the company as divided up among all outstanding shares. If the company then reports earnings of $100 million, the value of the company is now 1.1 billion, and its stock should go up to $11 per share, because that's the new value of one ten-millionth of the company's value. Your ROI on this stock is $1, in whatever time period the reporting happens (typically quarterly, giving this stock a roughly 4% APY).

This is a totally valid way to value stocks and to shop for them; it's very similar to how commodities, for instance gold, are bought and sold. Gold never pays you dividends. Doesn't give you voting rights either. Its value at any given time is solely what someone else will pay to have it. That's just fine with a lot of people right now; gold's currently trading at around $1,700 an ounce, and it's been the biggest moneymaker in our economy since the bottom fell out of the housing market (if you'd bought gold in 2008, you would have more than doubled your money in 4 years; I challenge you to find anything else that's done nearly as well over the same time).

In reality, a combination of both of these valuation methods are used to value stocks. If a stock pays dividends, then each person gets money now, but because there's less retained earnings and thus less change in the total asset value of the company, the actual share price doesn't move (much). If a stock doesn't pay dividends, then people only get money when they cash out the actual stock, but if the company is profitable (Apple, BH, etc) then one share should grow in value as the value of that small fraction of the company continues to grow. Both of these are sources of ROI, and both are seen in a company that will both retain some earnings and pay out dividends on the rest.

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Thanks for the great explanation ! My point was that a share of the company itself (a voting right) would seem useless if it never paid out dividends. Like you said, a person buying the stock would want to get money out of it eventually, not just voting rights. However, as many people suggested, the two are related because if the company reaches its maximal growth it would be in the interest of the shareholders to vote for dividends. –  t0x1n Feb 1 '13 at 13:02
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