Banks Hopeful for Dividend Hikes and Stocks Buybacks

bank vault
bank vault

In the coming weeks, the financial sector may move from worrying about the spending sequestration to the coming stress tests of the 19 major banks in the United States. We recently covered the Seven Safest Banks in America for 2013 and that list may get to be expanded handily in 2014 after the result of the stress tests.

At issue is that the banks are expected to pass these tests. If so, there is going to be one serious advantage that has not been there in years. That will come from returning capital to the shareholders. Companies like Bank of America Corp. (NYSE: BAC) and Citigroup Inc. (NYSE: C) have such low dividend yields that they might as well not be counted as dividend payers at all. Some of the banks likely will be freed up to begin returning capital via higher dividends and common stock buybacks.

Bank of America Corp. (NYSE: BAC) has a yield of only 0.36% and Citigroup Inc. (NYSE: C) yields only 0.1%. Our take is that Bank of America may get to increase its payout before Citigroup, but that may be solely due to management remaining the same. There are still many pending legal cases against Bank of America from borrowers and from various government agencies and trading partners. If these banks are not allowed to lift their dividends this year, then we almost certainly would expect that to take place in 2014.

Here are some other banks that may have a shot at dividend hikes or resuming some share repurchase programs:

  • Regions Financial Corp. (NYSE: RF) has a $10.8 billion market cap and only a 0.52% dividend yield. Regions cut the payout from $0.38 to $0.10 in 2008, and then in 2009 it cut that payout from $0.10 all the way down to only $0.01 per share per quarter.

  • SunTrust Banks Inc. (NYSE: STI) has a $14.7 billion market cap and only a 0.72% dividend yield. This bank raised its payout to $0.05 per share quarter from $0.01 in mid-2011, but that has been static ever since at the one-penny level.

  • Zions Bancorp. (NASDAQ: ZION) has a $4.4 billion market cap and only a 0.17% dividend yield. This dividend fell from $0.43 to $0.32 per share per quarter very briefly in 2008 and then down to $0.04 for two quarters before the dividend fell down to $0.01 per share quarter, where it has been since mid-2009.

The good news is that most banks are expected to pass the stress tests. The bad news is that merely passing a stress test does not come with assurances that the Federal Reserve will allow these banks to automatically hike dividends and begin repurchasing common stock.

Filed under: 24/7 Wall St. Wire, Banking & Finance, Corporate Governance, Dividends & Buybacks, Regulation Tagged: BAC, C, featured, RF, STI, ZION