A special dividend means ITV is worth the risk

4 mins. to read
A special dividend means ITV is worth the risk

Special dividends have long been overshadowed by share buybacks. The latter has proven popular with company management due in part to its positive effect on EPS, which is often linked to bonuses, and the flexibility it brings. This contrasts with ordinary dividends, which the market expects to be repeated in future years once they have commenced.

However, ITV (LON:ITV) is one of the few companies in the FTSE 100 which pays a special dividend. In 2016 it amounted to 5p per share. It took the company’s total yield including ordinary dividends to over 6%, which puts it in the top decile of large-cap income stocks.

In my view, ITV’s special dividend means more than just a high yield. It signals a confident outlook and a business model which has been drastically improved in the last few years. Despite obvious risks from Brexit and a change in CEO, this makes ITV a sound long-term buy.

Special dividend appeal

Special dividends could become more valuable over the medium term due to the forecast rise in inflation. It has already risen from 0.8% at the time of the EU referendum to 2.3%. The Bank of England expects it to reach 2.7% by the end of 2018, although numerous other forecasts have the figure at closer to 4% than 3%.

In such a scenario, investors may begin to favour companies which can offer a relatively large real dividend yield. With ITV yielding over 6% when its special dividend is added to its ordinary dividend, this could make it a prime income target.

This contrasts with other FTSE 100 stocks which are engaging in share buybacks. On paper, it may be a logical means of returning excess cash to investors. As mentioned, share buybacks have a positive effect on EPS and can help to support a company’s share price. Further, I believe they make sense when a company’s share price is relatively low and offers good value for money.

However, a key part of investing is investor sentiment. Looking ahead, special dividends could cause a step-change in sentiment towards a company’s shares, while a share buyback may have a rather more muted effect on a company’s stock price.


While investors buying ITV shares have now missed the 2016 special dividend of 5p per share, the company paid a special dividend in 2015 of 10p per share. Therefore, a special dividend does not seem to be a one-off event. While there is no guarantee of more special dividends, there is a good chance they will be repeated in future due to the improving nature of ITV’s business model.

Of course, ITV faces two clear risks to its financial performance over the medium term. The first is the potential impact of Brexit. Already, the UK retail sector is experiencing some disruption from a higher rate of inflation caused by weaker sterling. As mentioned, this situation could worsen and force real disposable incomes even lower. In such a scenario, UK-focused consumer companies may find their sales and profitability fall. This could impact negatively on their advertising budgets.

The second major risk facing ITV is the resignation of its CEO, Adam Crozier. During his eight-year tenure, ITV has become a much stronger business. For example, adjusted EPS has increased by 844%, as the company has benefited from a greater international focus and more diversification. Clearly, the rest of the ITV management team deserve some credit for recent success. However, while a new CEO is likely to continue with the current strategy, change inevitably brings a degree of risk for investors in ITV.

Investment opportunity

As mentioned, the outlook for the business is uncertain. In the company’s Q1 results, it reported a fall in external revenue of 3%. This was in line with its expectations, with the company anticipating further challenges in Q2.

However, it expects to grow its share of the broadcast market this year, and is due to deliver strong growth in Online, Pay & Interactive, where demand for online advertising remains strong. Further, ITV Studios is expected to report good organic revenue growth, with over 75% of expected sales secured for the year.

ITV is also making encouraging progress with operational efficiencies. It expects to deliver £25 million in overhead savings this year, as well as a £25 million reduction in the programme budget due to the absence of a major sporting event. These savings should help to offset the expected fall in revenue to at least some degree.

The company is forecast to report a fall in EPS of 5% this year and a rise of 4% next year. In my opinion, guidance is of limited use in ITV’s case, since Brexit and a change in CEO present the potential for major change which could have a positive or negative impact on its outlook. Its P/E ratio of 11.5 suggests the market is pricing in a large margin of safety, which I believe gives its shares appeal from a long-term investment perspective.


Special dividends could become increasingly sought after. While share buybacks are a logical means of returning excess capital to investors and improving share price performance through increasing EPS, I feel investors may place a greater value on a higher income return. Inflation is forecast to move higher, which could prompt a shift in attitudes towards dividend stocks. Since ITV’s yield including ordinary and special dividends is over 6%, I feel it could become more popular among investors.

The company faces an uncertain future due to risks including a change in CEO and Brexit. While this is expected to cause a fall in its profitability in financial year 2017, its share price could perform relatively well. The company is increasing its market share and generating efficiencies in order to create a stronger business for the long term. Therefore, since it has a relatively low P/E ratio and a sound long-term strategy, it seems to offer good value for money.

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