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Publicly traded companies are required ….

Publicly traded companies are required to disclose their profits, and you can view this by reading the firm’s quarterly report or the summary that is available online. After the report is issued, the company’s board of directors votes whether to issue a dividend and how much that dividend will be. Often, the company will commit to issue a fixed dividend every quarter. This is a promise to shareholders that they will be rewarded for putting their faith — and investing their money — in that particular company.

The dividend takes the form of a cash payment to the owner of record of the company stock on a particular date. In the case of Emerson Electric, in 2020 the company issued dividends of 50 cents per share in February, May and August and a dividend of 50.5 cents in November, for an annual dividend payout of $2.05. It also announced another 50.5-cent dividend that was paid on Feb. 11, 2021.

As of February 9, 2021, Emerson stock was selling for $85.90 per share, so a quarterly dividend of 50.5 cents ($2.02 per year), would represent a return on investment of 2.35 percent — a whole lot better than one would do by leaving one’s money in a savings account.

Traditionally, purchasing stock with an eye toward collecting dividends was the

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way that savvy, conservative investors put their money into the stock market. It is a slow, steady grind that produces profits that exceed what one would receive by putting the money in the bank.

But there is another — far more risky but far more potentially profitable — investment strategy that is used by many people who “play” the stock market . And that is using the price of the stock itself to generate profits. Using this strategy, one would purchase shares at a given price with an eye to selling them at a higher price sometime in the future. This is a game that is more akin to gambling than investing, but it is nevertheless one that grabs the biggest headlines and paints the most familiar picture of what it means to put one’s money into stocks.

Let’s take another look at Emerson Electric. On February 10, 2020, Emerson stock was selling for $73.39 a share right before the pandemic started making us really nervous. Then, as the country adjusted to its first big COVID-19 shock, the price of the stock fell dramatically. By March 23, it had dropped to $38.08 per share before starting its recovery. Since then, it has risen steadily to nearly $86. You can tell lots of stories by looking at that picture.

Imagine that you had purchased 100 shares of Emerson on March 23, 2020. You would have spent $3,808. Imagine that you had sold your shares this Feb. 9 for $8,590. You would have made a profit

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of $4,782 or 126 percent!

Now imagine that you had purchased your shares on February 10, 2020, for $7,339 and finally bailed when their value fell to $3,808. You would have lost $3,531, or 49 percent of your investment.

Other stocks related to our industry have seen equally dramatic changes in their prices since the pandemic took hold.

Pool Corp. (stock symbol POOL), which bills itself as “the world’s leading wholesale distributor” of pool equipment, parts and supplies, is the parent company of SCP, Superior Pool Products and Horizon Distributors. On February 10, 2020, its stock was selling for $227.55 a share. By March 23, it had dropped to $169.31. On February 9, 2021, it was selling for $360.29.

For investment purposes, Pool Corp. paid a dividend of 58 cents per share in May, August and November of 2020, with another dividend expected in March, 2021. That’s $2.32 per share annually, assuming no change in the March payout. Based on its $360.29 selling price, that’s a return of 0.65 percent — not as healthy a return as that of Emerson, but still better than one could receive from a bank savings account.

Finally, let’s take a look at Pentair (stock symbol PNR), certainly one of the nation’s largest manufacturers of pool and spa equipment. On Feb. 10, 2020, a share of Pentair stock was selling for $43.84. Then, as the pandemic hit, its price tumbled, hitting $22.85 by March 23. Since then, it has climbed steadily, closing at $54.81 on February 9, 2021.

For investment purposes, Pentair paid dividends of 19 cents per share for all four quarters of last year, an annual yield of 76 cents per share. In January, its dividend was increased to 20 cents. Assuming an annual dividend payout of 80 cents per share in 2021, based on its February 9 price of $54.81 per share, that’s a return of 1.46 percent — nearly 15 times that which a bank savings account would yield.

It’s interesting to note that all three of these pool-related stocks followed a nearly identical price pattern since February, 2020, as all of them dropped dramatically, bottomed out on March 23, then rose steadily through the rest of the year.

Conservative investors — who put their money into profitable companies and look for their returns in the form of dividends — often look for declines in the share price of stocks before they invest. A lower stock price means that a steady or growing dividend will produce a higher percentage of profit.

Those who believe that profits can only be gained by rising share prices are often disappointed when prices eventually fall.

That distinction is the difference between investing in and “playing” the market.

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