DBS – The pleasant surprise

Abstract – Two years ago, the sudden devaluation of the Chinese yuan RMB caused DBS share price to fall below its book value. Since then, DBS Holdings share price has been on the rise. In a similar fashion, the share price of OCBC and UOB also fell to below their respective book value. For the past two years, the share prices of all the three banks were rising at unprecedented pace. As of 23 Feb 2018, the share prices of DBS, OCBC and UOB were respectively at $29.59, $13.37 and $28.05 respectively.

It came as a big surprise to many that DBS announced a very generous dividend distribution policy following their internal assessment that they have been more than fulfilled the Basel reform requirements. Historically DBS has never been this generous and their dividend distribution to share price ratio has almost always been lagging behind OCBC. Even during times when they offer scrip dividends, their discount has always been lower than that of OCBC. As their share price advanced, the number of scrip dividends that can be converted from the dividends gets smaller, and it became extremely daunting for people who has been targeting to get, for instance, 500 shares for every year of dividend declared. In simple arithmetic, by the time the share price hit about $20, we need to have at least 15,152 DBS shares before one can get 500 shares of scrip dividends assuming that no discount was given for taking scrip dividends. As the share price goes upwards, it is almost an impossible task as the horses are running well ahead of the chariot.

But that all changed overnight as DBS suddenly moved up the dividend generously from the expected final dividend of 33 cents for FY 2017 dividend to 60 cents and topped it up with a special dividend of 50 cents. In addition, it further announced that the dividend going forward to be marked up to $1.20. This means that we should generally expect the dividend pay out to be $1.20 per share for 2018 and, perhaps, even for the next few years. The whole dividend equation changed overnight. What that has been a more and more distant dream of getting 500 shares for each yearly dividend distribution became an instant possibility overnight. For example, in the above case, we do not need 15152 shares for have 500 shares of declared dividend. Instead, we need to have only 8333 DBS shares to get an equivalent of 500 DBS shares in declared dividend. Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately, depending on whether one owns the shares or still wanting to buy the shares, the share price never look back. It has been gradually rising two weeks ago from $25.36 on 7 February, the closing price on the day before the results announcement, to $29.59 as of yesterday. This represents a rise of more than $4 or about 16.7% rise within a matter of two weeks, literally unperturbed by the Chinese new year holidays in between. With the newly declared dividend for at least in the near future, it actually helps provide a ‘floor’ share price for the stock.  (For those who wish to have a better idea of the valuation may wish to refer to my on-line course on the investingnote.com platform – Value Investing – The Essential Guide) For example, the share price of $24 would now have been considered a steal when it was said to be ‘extremely expensive’ even at $20/- just twelve months ago.

Apart from the positive effect on its share price, the newly declared dividend distribution by DBS has other pulling effects too. It turned on the pressure for the other two banks to up their dividends going forward as well. In fact, in the latest results announcement for FY2017, both OCBC and UOB have already declared a higher dividend whether in the form of the final or special dividends. As we all know, bank performances tend to move in tandem with each other. So, with the more generous declaration for DBS, it is also likely that the heat for OCBC and UOB be turned on to bring up their dividends as well. Even if that do not happen in the near future, the current perception of a higher dividend declaration would help push up their share prices. Adding to this tail-wind is the expectation of higher net interest margin in the coming months. That means the shareholders of the all the banks would ‘huat’ (prosperous) in the light of this pleasant announcement.

Disclaimer – The above arguments are the personal opinion of the writer. It is not a recommendation to buy or sell the mentioned securities.  

Brennen has been investing in the stock market for 28 years. He trains occasionally and is a managing partner for BP Wealth Learning Centre. He is the instructor for two online courses on InvestingNote – Value Investing: The Essential Guide and Value Investing: The Ultimate Guide. He is also the author of the book – “Building Wealth Together Through Stocks” which is available in both soft and hardcopy.