Income investors already stinging from the low-rate environment may wince at reports that dividend payments declined 2.2 percent in 2015.

However, a recent report from Chicago-based Henderson Global Investors suggests the news on dividends isn’t as bad as it seems.

In real terms, dividends increased by 9.9 percent globally to reach some $1.15 trillion in 2015, but the growth in most regions of the world was muted or negated by the strength of the U.S. dollar, says Ben Lofthouse, co-manager of Henderson’s Global Equity Income Fund.

“At the headline level, we do our study in terms of U.S. dollars,” says Lofthouse. “If you’re a dollar investor, you had a tough year because currency is a big headwind. Your international dividends were flattened.”

According to Henderson’s Quarterly Dividend Study, the dollar’s strength deducted $104 billion from 2015 dividend totals, which caused an apparent 2.2 percent decline in dividends.

Finding yield in a low growth environment can be like drawing blood from a turnip, which has driven many investors to seek income from equities in the form of dividends.

“We’re seeing more interest in using equities for income around the world and from different populations,” Lofthouse says. “It used to be that dividends were the sleepy end of equities, but now they’re looked at as the secret power of equities.”

Because they are less volatile than earnings, dividends can be an effective measure of an economic sector’s health, Lofthouse says.

Dividend equities effectively mute the impact of volatility, Lofthouse says. The $1.15 trillion paid out in dividends in 2015 almost entirely compensates investors for the $1.3 trillion decline in share values around the world.

Moving forward in 2016, cuts in the commodities sector will limit dividend growth. Henderson trimmed its dividend forecast for 2016 by $10 billion to $1.17 trillion, which the firm estimates as 3.3 percent underlying growth in payments and 1.6 percent apparent growth.

“In the short term, commodity weakness will be a powerful driver for developed markets,” Lofthouse says. “In the long run, developed market consumers will reap benefits from the lower commodity prices.”

According to Lofthouse, oil prices did not significantly impact dividends in 2015, with Chesapeake Energy the only producer to cut payments last year.

“Energy was okay in 2105 as far as dividends were concerned, but you’ll see them decline this year,” he says.

Lofthouse says stabilizing exchange rates will allow dividend growth to continue.

Globally, the U.S. and Commonwealth countries pay the highest proportion of dividends, according to Henderson’s report. In 2015, the U.S. continued to be the engine of global income growth.

“Economic growth is okay in developed markets,” Lofthouse says. “Companies are still relatively confident in most sectors and are increasing their payouts. In the U.S., all sectors increased their dividends aside from mining and semiconductors.”

Japanese companies also increased their dividend payouts in 2015 by more than 19 percent, Lofthouse noted, but that translated to 5.2 percent in dollar terms.

“Commonwealth countries and the U.S. have a strong culture of paying dividends, it’s part of the corporate culture that investors get significant parts of their returns through dividend payments,” Lofthouse says. “Many other cultures, Japan included, have historically been less inclined to pay dividends, but we’re starting to see these countries catch up.”

According to Henderson, China posted its first annual decline in dividends, a $27.9 billion or 1.5 percent drop.

As growth slows globally, dividend growth will slow but not flatten, Lofthouse says.

“In the low, slow growth environment, you’ll continue to see steady growth in dividends,” Lofthouse says. “You tend to get stable and mature companies like pharmaceuticals that continue with gradual growth. The need for capital expansion is quite low, so companies start to build up cash, so they increase their dividends, or in the U.S. they could do buybacks.”

Since 2010, global listed companies have paid $5.4 trillion back to shareholders, Henderson reports.

For its quarterly report, Henderson analyzes dividends paid by the world’s 1,200 largest companies by market share.