Coming from a background in Chinese equities I'm familiar with the idea that dividends can come in the form of either cash or stocks. As far as I can tell, they seem to exist in the US as well, but I can't find any information about them on popular finance websites like Yahoo/Google Finance. Can anyone point me to a source where I can look at historical stock dividend payments for a given company?
Check out the NASDAQ and NYSE websites(the exchange in which the stock is listed) for detailed information. Most of the websites which collate dividend payments generally have cash payments history only e.g. Dividata. And because a company has given stock dividends in the past doesn't guarantee such in the future, I believe you already know that.
There's not usually a point to issuing new stock as a dividend, because if you issue new stock, it dilutes the existing shareholders by the exact same amount as the dividend: so now they have a few more shares, great, but they're worth the exact same amount.
- If you're giving dividends, you might as well give cash dividends.
- If you can't afford cash dividends, you might as well not give dividends.
- If you need to raise capital by selling newly created shares, do a follow-on public offering or something. Then you're not complicating your existing shareholders' taxes.
- If your share price is too high, just split the stock.
(This assumes that all stockholders are equal. If there are multiple share classes, or people whose rights to a stock are tied to the stock price in some manner - options, warrants, or something - then a properly structured stock dividend could serve to enrich one set of shareholders and other rights-holders at the expense of another. But this is usually illegal.)
If this sort of dividends are popular in China, I suspect it is due to some freaky regulatory or tax-related circumstances which are not present in the United States markets. China is kind of notorious for having unusual capital controls, limitations on the exchange of currency, and markets which are not very transparent.
I am going to answer the first part of your question regarding the frequency of stock dividends versus cash distributions.
Firstly, let's define our time frame: I have arbitrarily chosen one year - 20180901 through 20190901.
Securuties that have been listed on a major market listings on NYSE, NYSE Arca, Nyse American, Nasdaq, Cboe BZX, and IEX for the last two years. Total number of securities: 8490
Total number of stock dividends that occurred whilst these securities were major-exchange listed: 17
Total number of cash distributions/dividends that occurred whilst these securities were major-exchange listed: 27342
Total number of securities that paid out one or more stock dividends whilst major-exchange listed: 16
Total number of securities that paid out one or more cash distributions whilst major-exchange listed: 5603
Source: Internal databases at Norgate Data.