Stock prices tend to track corporate earnings over the long run. S&P 500 corporate earnings have been flat-to-down over the past 18 months, which explains the sideways trajectory of the stock market (left chart). Without a rebound in earnings, it may be difficult for stocks to make much headway.
Dividends are up considerably, however. Since earnings peaked in October 2014, S&P 500 companies have paid 14.5% more dividends, a 9.6% annualized increase (right chart). Indeed, dividend growth has been a steady, stealth source of return for investors, with S&P 500 dividends rising 6.4% annualized since the turn of the century.