If you needed any more evidence of how desperate and focused on yield the Australian stock market is, look no further than Metcash’s announcement on Friday. In an attempt to revive its struggling food distribution and retailing business, Metcash [ASX:MTS] announced that it would invest nearly $700 million over the next five years.
To help fund the investment program, the company said it would cut its dividend payout ratio from 90% to 60% – which represents a sizeable dividend reduction. Hearing ‘dividend’ and ‘cut’ in the same sentence saw the market dump Metcash shares by nearly 10% on the day.
There were plenty of reasons to be wary of investing in Metcash before Friday’s announcement. Being caught in a competitive battle with Coles and Woolies being just one of them. But here’s the weird thing about the market right now…
Metcash was distributing nearly all of its profits in dividends in an industry where its two largest rivals are investing heavily in growth. And it could keep this up only to the detriment of its competitive positioning and earnings growth. Yet the market continued to buy the stock for the ‘yield’.
But now that Metcash has faced reality and announced plans for growth, the market drops it like a hot potato. In other words, the market puts a higher price on a business that distributes nearly all its earnings and thus doesn’t grow its assets via reinvestment, and a lower price on a business that plans to generate long term growth through an extensive investment program. That’s not terribly rational.
Granted, no one knows whether the plans will work or whether the investment will generate a decent return, but the ‘buy for yield’ logic befits a market that is very shortsighted and unquestioning right now.
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