US dividends are being cut at a record pace (see here) and this is a welcomed news as it marks the beginning of a turning point in the market. I do not mean the turning point for an upward swing in equity prices, at least not yet. I mean a turning point from the relentlessly accelerating down trend and into a flattening section of the U-curve.
Here is the logic - corporate profits are lagged at the very least one-to-two quarters from real demand. This suggests that an accelerating fall in the dividends reflects the economic reality of Q3-Q4 2008. Assuming the real side of the US economy is going to start settling into the bottom section of the U-shape correction sometime in February-March, the current reporting season will be pricing exactly this forecast. Any pick up in growth from the low figures of December-January will be a bonus point to Q2 dividends.
Regardless of such a pick up, equity markets downgrades in the next few weeks will bring share prices down to reflect dividend cuts.
This will set the stage for the next move. End of Q2 is likely to see some upturn in the US economy. Real GDP growth is likely to stay negative in annual terms, but the latter part of Q2 will be marked by a rise in growth from the lows of Q1.
Equity markets will lead this trend with a potential rally in late Q1 - early Q2. Dividend cuts anticipations for Q2 will already be priced in by then, so aggressive cost cutting measures - implying lower sensitivity of Q2 profits to any further economic slowdown in Q1 2009 - will provide some additional potential mid-Q2 boost to the share prices.
A late Q1-early Q2 rally will be a payoff to today's realism...