The clientele effect is a theory which states that different policies attract different types of investors, and changes to the policies will cause a shift in demand for the company’s stock by investors, impacting its share price. In other words, the clientele effect is the existence of groups of investors who are attracted to investing in companies with specific policies.
The clientele effect theory states that different policies attract different types of investors, and changes to those policies shift the clientele and impact the company’s share price.
Examples of two different clienteles can be retired investors (those who may prefer stocks with a high dividend payout) and young investors (those who may prefer stocks that show strong capital appreciation).
Once a company has established a set of policies, the clientele effect highlights the importance of refraining from making dramatic changes to such policies to prevent a shift in clientele.
Understanding the Clientele Effect
The clientele effect can be easily explained in the context of a company’s dividend policy. For example, retired investors likely prefer stability and may have a preference for stocks with high dividend payouts and yields.
On the other hand, another investor group, such as young investors with a long investment horizon, may prefer stocks that reinvest their earnings for long-term stock price appreciation.
Each company’s dividend policy plays a role in the type of investors (clientele) attracted.
Looking at institutional investors such as mutual funds, insurance companies, family offices, banks, etc., some may be limited to only being able to invest in companies that pay a sizable dividend. Furthermore, the mandate of each institutional investor is different, resulting in a unique list of permissible investments.
All of the considerations above suggest that a clientele effect does exist. When a company changes its policies significantly, it can cause a shift in the clientele of the company, affecting its share price.
For example, a retired investor looking for stable dividends would likely choose to divest shares held in a company that announced a significant cut to their dividend payout.
Once a company has established a set of policies – whether it be their dividend policy or environmental, social, and corporate governance policies, the clientele effect outlines the importance of refraining from making dramatic changes to such policies to prevent a shift in clientele, which may negatively impact the company’s share price.
Example of the Clientele Effect
Company A is a high-growth company that has developed leading-edge technology. It reinvests all earnings back into the company and does not pay dividends.
In recent quarters, the adoption of the company’s technology in key countries has slowed due to the number of entrants. The CEO has decided to focus on solidifying its current market share rather than aggressively expand.
As such, the company now has earnings that do not need to be entirely reinvested into the company. Company A subsequently announces a constant dividend policy. Following the news, the stock sees heavy sell orders and a significant drop in its share price.
Question: As an equity analyst of Company A, what initial comment(s) can you make regarding the rationale for its share price drop?
Answer: It is expected that the clientele of Company A are investors looking for stocks with high growth potential and share price appreciation. Noted by the company, they have decided to focus on maintaining (rather than expanding) its current market share and have instilled a new dividend policy.
As a result, the clientele of Company A that had preferred capital appreciation has likely moved on, attributed to the clientele effect, causing the share price to drop.
Real-Life Example of the Clientele Effect
In late 2001, Winn-Dixie Stores, Inc., a supermarket chain based in the US, announced plans to cut its annual dividend of US$1.02, of which were paid in monthly installments of US$0.085. At that time, Winn-Dixie was one of the few companies listed on the New York Stock Exchange that paid a monthly dividend.
The new dividend plan called for a quarterly dividend of $0.05 – a steep drop-off from their original dividend plan. Winn-Dixie’s chief financial officer at that time outlined to shareholders that the company was altering its strategy to highlight capital appreciation over dividends.
Winn-Dixie also provided a bleaker outlook on its financial performance – revising its Q1-2002 earnings projection lower. Shareholders of Winn-Dixie clearly did not like the new strategy outlined by the company, as Winn-Dixie saw its shares close over 35% lower on the subsequent trading day.
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