What Is the Ex-Dividend Date?

Definition & Examples of the Ex-Dividend Date

Shareholders meeting with managers

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The ex-dividend date is the cutoff day to buy a stock and receive its upcoming dividend payment. If a stock is sold on or after this date, it is said to be "ex-dividend" and the pending dividend payment will go to the seller instead of the buyer.

If you're looking to purchase stocks that pay a dividend, the ex-dividend date is an important piece of information to know. Companies announce these and other significant dates on a specific schedule. Here's how the process works.

What Is the Ex-Dividend Date?

The ex-dividend date defines the last day when a buyer can buy a dividend-paying stock and receive the upcoming dividend. On or after that date, the dividend will go to the seller even though they no longer own the stock.

Without an ex-dividend date, the issue of who earns a dividend could become thorny when a stock is sold. For this reason, a company announces this cutoff in advance.

  • Alternate name: Ex-date

How the Ex-Dividend Date Works

Ex-dividend dates are established at the time a company announces a dividend. When a company reports a net profit for the period (usually a quarter), it can announce a dividend payment to reward the owners who have risked their capital by investing in the business.

This is done by a vote of the board of directors to take some of the profit and send it out as a cash dividend. The board of directors decides how much cash the firm can afford to pay out in dividends after accounting for things such as expected debt servicing obligations and expansion plans.

Growth stocks, issued by relatively young companies with rapid rates of expansion, often pay no dividends. Mature businesses with steady profits, on the other hand, may pay considerable dividends.

At the time the dividend is discussed by the board, four specific dates are scheduled.

The Dividend Declaration Date

This is the date on which the company announces it is paying a dividend, often through a news release or announcement on its website. On the dividend declaration date, the dividend record date and ex-dividend date are also announced so investors can make plans.

The Dividend Record Date

This is the date on which the corporation's shareholder roster will be frozen to determine who is eligible to receive the dividend. If you do not hold shares on the dividend record date, you will not get that specific dividend distribution, even if you buy the stock before it is paid out to shareholders.

The Ex-Dividend Date

It takes time to change a corporation's shareholder records. The buy and sell information has to be submitted to the transfer agent to make sure the old owner's shares (and dividend rights) are transferred to the new owner. To account for this delay, the ex-date was added. In the United States, the ex-dividend date is usually one business day before the dividend record date.

If you don't own a dividend-issuing stock on the ex-dividend date, you won't be recorded on the dividend record date, and you won't receive the dividend on the dividend payment date.

The Dividend Payment Date

This is the date when the cash shows up for stockholders—often in their brokerage account.

There are exceptions to these rules, including cases of special dividendsstock splits, and other distributions such as stock dividends. As an example, anytime a dividend is 25% of the stock's value or more, the ex-date is deferred until one day after the payment date.

A good company tends to have a long-established record of raising the dividend by a rate substantially higher than inflation over many decades. These companies can do this thanks to their strong core economic engine that frequently enjoys high returns on capital. If you hold the stock long enough, and the dividend growth record is sufficient, then at some point, you will get back more than the money you invested. Companies with the best dividend records come to be known as blue-chip stocks

What Happens on the Ex-Dividend Date?

If you buy a stock, mutual fund, or other financial security that has declared a dividend before the ex-dividend date, you are entitled to receive that upcoming dividend. That is because the books will be updated with your information before the record date. As the new owner, the company will know to send you the money.

If you buy a stock, mutual fund, or other financial security that has declared a dividend on or after the ex-dividend date, you won't receive the upcoming dividend payment. The former owner will still receive the scheduled dividend even though they sold the asset to you.

To account for the transfer of value that occurs on the ex-dividend date, the quoted value of a stock or other security will typically be adjusted downward by the amount of the expected upcoming future dividend. This makes it difficult or impossible for arbitragers to exploit the timing in order to make a profit.

The system has become so efficient, investors who have trades pending (such as stop, stop limit, or good-until-canceled limit orders) don't need to do anything to adjust pricing based on a dividend. At the close of trading the day prior, stock trades that are not specifically designated as "do not reduce" should be adjusted downward by the amount of the upcoming dividend.

A Real-World Example

Here's how this works in action. On April 14, 2020, Johnson & Johnson announced that it was going to pay a quarterly dividend of $1.01 per share.

This particular dividend announcement included three important dates:

  • The dividend payable date of June 9, 2020
  • The dividend record date of May 26, 2020
  • The ex-dividend date of May 22, 2020

This means, if you wanted to receive the dividend on June 9, you must have owned the stock before May 22. If you bought it on or after May 22, you'd have to wait until the next dividend is announced. This also means that if you sold your shares on or after May 22, you would receive the dividend, even though you won't own the stock on the day dividends are distributed.

Key Takeaways

  • The ex-dividend date is the cutoff date at which an investor must own a stock in order to receive its upcoming dividend.
  • If a buyer purchases the stock before the ex-dividend date, they will receive the upcoming dividend.
  • If a seller sells the stock on or after the ex-dividend date, they will receive the dividend even though they no longer own the stock.
  • The ex-dividend date is usually one business day before the record date.