Date by which a shareholder must officially own shares in order to be entitled to a dividend. For example, a firm might declare a dividend on Nov 1, payable Dec 1 to holders of record Nov 15. Once a trade is executed an investor becomes the "owner of record" on settlement, which currently takes 5 business days for securities, and one business day for mutual funds. Stocks trade ex-dividend the fourth day before the record date, since the seller will still be the owner of record and is thus entitled to the dividend.
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