When people invest their hard-earned money in the stock market, they look to have their funds work for them long-term. One of the more desirable trades veteran investors make is into securities that pay passive income as dividends. For the uninformed, this is a corporate action that seeks to distribute an entity’s earnings to its shareholders using a predefined percentage per share as a reward for these individuals pouring their funds into it at some stage of its existence. Of course, and still maintaining their stake.

Equity owners in a company are eligible to receive their slice of the pie as long as they have owned their stocks before the ex-dividend date. But, it is vital to note that an entity’s board of directors is the body that decides what the dividend yield per share will be and if these payments will get made at all. They are the ones that can pull, lower, or increase them, depending on the current situation and expert predictions for the future. Though, it must get said that movements in any direction regarding dividend distributions can affect the price of a security, as they provide certainty about a company's present financial well-being.

As a rule of thumb, dividend payouts are usually a practice for well-established companies. In other words, ones that regularly do not need to put back attained funds into growing their business. In general, reinvesting profits is something that start-ups do. And per most analysts, those looking for a super steady income stream would be better off investing in bonds than dividends because interest payments in these securities don't fluctuate. Hence, bond investors don't care about a company's dividend policy since their bond investments' interest payments are static. As a side note, exchange funds are typically those that select to reinvest capital gains and dividends to grow their holdings and make more money from investments in the long haul, as this is not usually something that individual investors do.

Those considering investing in dividend-yielding stocks would be wise to analyze the trailing annual dividend rate and the forward one before buying such securities. These can get found on most Key Statistics pages at top-end financial hubs. Their goal is to give projections to what investors can expect to receive from their stocks in the upcoming financial year.

What Are Trailing Dividends?

A quick definition of a trailing dividend is nothing more than the previous year's dividend payment values. Their goal is to serve as an indicator of future results. While these can be fairly indicative of what upcoming dividend payouts will be, it is erroneous to 100% rely on these figures as the sole barometer, as they do not factor in special dividends that may not happen again, plus payment cuts and increases.

In most companies, a trailing dividend gets calculated utilizing the dividend payouts made in the last twelve months. These simply get added up, and their total represents a company’s TTM (trailing twelve-month) dividend. Let us say that a corporation pays out dividends quarterly, so if they gave away a payment of $1 per share to shareholders in February for Q1. Then another one of $2 in May for Q1. And again, $1 per share in August for Q3. Capping out the year with a $1.5 payout in November for Q4, the trailing dividend for the preceding annual period would be $5.5. Thus, if someone owns one hundred shares in this entity, that person would have received $550 as an equity reward in the previous year.

The trailing dividend yield is one way to measure a stock’s value. Those that like it do so because it is a fixed empiric metric based on data. That said, as everyone knows, past results often do not always accurately dictate future outcomes. Yet still, they supply a decent footing for sound estimates.

Forward Dividends Explained

While trailing dividends are exact summations of past info, forward ones are nothing more than a projection of what someone expects a stock to pay in the future, generally in a twelve-month period. The method gets primarily applied in cases where the circumstances are decent for a predictable dividend yield based on past instances/information.

When calculating a forward dividend yield, the common practice is to divide the estimated annual payment by the current stock price. Therefore, if a company’s first quarterly dividend per share is $3, most of its stockholders have confidence this trend will go on for subsequent quarters, meaning, come year’s end, the business will produce an annual dividend of $12.00. So, the forward dividend yield shall be 10% if the stock price is $120.

It is vital to point out that doing these kinds of calculations is not always a reliable instrument in estimating a company’s future dividend payments because loads of other factors come into play, such as if the business is planning an expansion, will it put money toward research or developing a new product soon, etc. Consequently, experienced investors seek to trade dividend stocks of brands with stable payout policies that dictate that these entities will produce dividends irrespective of the company’s earning level. The thought process behind this is that implementing this strategy can help a company reach its long-haul business goals regardless of market volatility by projecting a sense of security for investors.

Constant dividend scenarios are ones where investors get exposed to a company’s earning volatility, and residual ones are when they get paid after the invested entity settles its needs for working capital and expenditures. 

Which Is More Accurate – Trailing or Forward Dividend?

Forward dividend yield also gets called the indicated one by some, and a good one is anything that falls within the 2%-6% range. In 2022, the average dividend yield of the companies in the Standard and Poor's 500 index was 4.29%, and the current one is 1.68%. Given that companies, particularly vast corporations, are continuously undergoing changes at various levels of structure, and the market is constantly experiencing its movements, it is not as smart to lean on estimations made using only historical data

While these are handy, it is better to take the forward dividend yield more seriously when the future circumstances are predictable and crucial company/market announcements have already gotten made. Without question, the forward dividend yield is the more precise prediction tool. Yes, the trailing dividend can get calculated with accuracy. Nonetheless, that means little if what was applicable last year is no longer valid today and in the months to come.