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investor clinic

I’m interested in investing in strong, reliable dividend-paying companies. How do I find out the history of a company’s dividend payments?

You can do one of two things: Get the information directly from the company’s website, or use a third-party site such as Globeinvestor.com.

Let’s take BCE Inc. BCE-T as an example, starting with how to find the company’s own data.

First, do an internet search for “BCE investor relations.” When you land on the investor relations page, click on “shares and dividends.” Then scroll down to see a table of BCE’s most recent and upcoming dividend payments.

Want even more information? By clicking on “view the dividend history page,” you’ll pull up a list of BCE’s dividends going back nearly 40 years.

Not all companies are as thorough as BCE when it comes to presenting historical dividend data. But most understand how important dividends are to their shareholders and publish at least a few years’ worth of information. (Note to companies that don’t publish any historical dividend data at all: Please save your shareholders the aggravation and make this information easily accessible on your website.)

If you’ve tried a company’s website and struck out, you can find historical dividend information on most third-party financial websites. Globeinvestor.com, for example, recently upgraded this feature and now includes more than a decade’s worth of dividend data.

Returning to the BCE example, enter the stock symbol (BCE) in the search box on Globeinvestor.com to view the company’s stock quote. Then, under the share price, click on “dividends” to reveal all of BCE’s quarterly dividends since 2005, including declaration, ex-dividend, record and pay dates. Globeinvestor.com also provides the annualized five-year dividend growth rate, which in BCE’s case is about 5.1 per cent.

Whether you are using Globeinvestor.com or another financial website, I strongly recommend that you double-check all dividend data against the company’s own numbers to make sure they are correct.

In 2018, I bought 100 units of Brookfield Infrastructure Partners LP (BIP.UN) at $51.38 on the Canadian side of my tax-free savings account. Because the dividends were declared in U.S. dollars, I later transferred my units to the U.S. side of my TFSA to avoid currency conversion costs. Recently, when I looked at my statement I noticed some changes: Those 100 shares have become 184 (I’m enrolled in the dividend reinvestment plan), the ticker symbol is now just BIP, and the current market price was listed at US$38.21. Can you explain?

There are two reasons the number of units in your account has grown. First, because you are enrolled in a dividend reinvestment plan, each time Brookfield Infrastructure has paid a distribution you have acquired additional units. Second, Brookfield Infrastructure completed a three-for-two unit split in June, meaning that for every two units you held prior to the split you received an additional unit. If you held 120 units before the split, for example, you would now have 180 units (120 multiplied by 3/2) after the split.

This also helps to explain why the unit price is lower now that when you made your original investment. It’s important to understand that, when a company splits its shares – whether two-for-one, three-for-two or some other ratio – no additional value is created. The market price of the shares simply adjusts to reflect the fact that investors now have more shares. In the case of Brookfield Infrastructure, because the number of shares was multiplied by 3/2, the price post-split would be about two-thirds of the old price. (If you have 3/2 as many shares at two-thirds the price, these numbers essentially cancel each other out and the total value of your holdings stays the same.)

But there’s another reason the current price appears to be lower than your purchase price: The two prices are in different currencies. You bought your shares in Canadian dollars, but they are now priced in U.S. dollars on the U.S. side of your account, so it’s an apples-to-oranges comparison. With the loonie now at about 77 US cents, a stock that is trading at, say, $100 in Canadian dollars is worth about US$77.

Regarding your question about Brookfield Infrastructure Partners’s ticker symbols, the units that trade on the Toronto Stock Exchange under the symbol BIP.UN are identical to the units that trade on the New York Stock Exchange under BIP. The only difference is that BIP.UN is priced in Canadian dollars, and BIP is priced in U.S. dollars. When you moved your units to the U.S. side of your account, only the symbol and currency changed, not the units themselves.

Similarly, Brookfield Infrastructure Corp.’s common shares (which, unlike the partnership units, are eligible for the Canadian dividend tax credit) also trade on the TSX and NYSE. But in this case, the ticker symbol is the same – BIPC – on both exchanges.

E-mail your questions to jheinzl@globeandmail.com. I’m not able to respond personally to e-mails but I choose certain questions to answer in my column.

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