The current stock bull market, already the longest in U.S. history, turns 10 years old this month. It’s been a phenomenally profitable time to participate, especially if you’ve stuck to an investment strategy that favors dividend-paying stocks.
As you can see in the chart below, the amount of cash that S&P 500 Index companies have returned to shareholders has grown each year since 2009. In the final three months of 2018 alone, S&P companies paid out $119.8 billion, a quarterly record. Total dividends for the full year stood at $456.3 billion, up 9 percent from the previous year—another new record.
Thanks to corporate tax reform, stock buybacks also shot up to an all-time high of more than $800 billion in 2018. For the first time since 2008, this amount topped what S&P companies spent to replace or upgrade offices and equipment.
While I’m on this topic, a lot of noise has been made lately about how much companies spent last year repurchasing shares of their own stock. Many critics of President Donald Trump’s tax overhaul suggest that buybacks have been made at the expense of investing and giving workers raises. This is misleading to say the least. Capital expenditures grew substantially from 2017 to 2018—at their fastest pace since 2011, in fact—and often, the same companies that were buying back their stock also increased their investments in their own business and workers.
Buffett Says He’d Buy the S&P Today
For a while now, some financial analysts and pundits have been predicting the end of the business cycle, and the bull market’s 10-year anniversary is only likely to intensify those calls.
The truth is that business cycles do not die from old age alone. In the past, they’ve unraveled as a result of economic shocks, debt crises, wars, changes in monetary policy—but never simply because investors believed they overstayed their welcome.
In other words, I don’t think there’s any reason why this bull run can’t last another 10 years.
Legendary investor Warren Buffett told CNBC just last week that he thinks the aging bull still looks attractive, and if given the choice right now between investing in S&P 500 Index companies and a 10-year bond, he’d go with the former.