To determine if you are entitled to receive income from stock dividends, you need to look at two important dates. They are the "record date" or "date of record" and the "ex-dividend date" or "ex-date."
When a company declares a dividend, it sets a record date when you must be on the company's books as a shareholder to receive the dividend. Companies also use this date to determine who is sent proxy statements, financial reports, and other information.
Once the company sets the record date, the stock exchanges or the National Association of Securities Dealers, Inc. fix the ex-dividend date. The ex-dividend date is normally set for stocks two business days before the record date. If you purchase a stock on its ex-dividend date or after, you will not receive the next dividend payment. Instead, the seller gets the dividend. If you purchase before the ex-dividend date, you get the dividend.
Here is an example:
Declaration Date 7/27/2004
Ex-Dividend Date 8/6/2004
Record Date 8/10/2004
Payable Date 9/10/2004
On July 27, 2004, Company XYZ declares a dividend payable on September 10, 2004 to its shareholders. XYZ also announces that shareholders of record on the company's books on or before August 10, 2004 are entitled to the dividend. The stock would then go ex-dividend two business days before the record date.
In this example, the record date falls on a Tuesday. Excluding weekends and holidays, the ex-dividend is set two business days before the record date or the opening of the market – in this case on the preceding Friday. This means anyone who bought the stock on Friday or after would not get the dividend. At the same time, those who purchase before the ex-dividend date receive the dividend.
With a significant dividend, the price of a stock may move up by the dollar amount of the dividend as the ex-dividend date approaches and then fall by that amount after the ex-dividend date. A stock that has gone ex-dividend is marked with an "x" in newspapers on that day.
Sometimes a company pays a dividend in the form of stock rather than cash. The stock dividend may be additional shares in the company or in a subsidiary being spun off. The procedures for stock dividends may be different from cash dividends. The ex-dividend date is set the first business day after the stock dividend is paid (and is also after the record date).
If you sell your stock before the ex-dividend date, you also are selling away your right to the stock dividend. Your sale includes an obligation to deliver any shares acquired as a result of the dividend to the buyer of your shares, since the seller will receive an I.O.U. or "due bill" from his or her broker for the additional shares. Thus, it is important to remember that the day you can sell your shares without being obligated to deliver the additional shares is not the first business day after the record date, but usually is the first business day after the stock dividend is paid.
Much of the above information is courtesy of the SEC.