The Dividend Waiting Game

Last week, when insurance giant AIG announced impressive first-quarter earnings, one of the top questions on investors and analysts' minds was "when will we see a dividend?" Unfortunately for them, it looks like there might be a bit of a wait before any distributions hit the table. With several large financial institutions going in this direction, with either a new or raised dividend, is it worthwhile for an investor to wait?

Through good and bad
Take, for example, the loyal Bank of America investor, who has stood beside his investment in the bank through legal battles, customer service snafus, and a constant barrage of bears in the market. When the bank reported first-quarter profits that had quadrupled, there was a good chance the current $0.01 per share dividend could be raised. But no, the bank decided against it.

Likewise with Citigroup . Of the struggling banks that emerged from the financial crisis, Citi seems to be the one recovering the best, with growth and earnings to boot. But investors will have to be satisfied with the bank's cent per share dividend as well.

Sharing is caring?
Wells Fargo and JPMorgan Chase both raised their dividends following earnings, up 36% and 26%, respectively. But does it mean they have their investors' best interests at heart -- at least more so than the others who haven't raised or will not pay a dividend?

While Wells and JPMorgan exited the financial crisis largely unscathed, the other three have been dealing with underlying issues that endangered their operations. While they have all made improvements, as seen by their earnings, there are still more problems to be fixed and belts to be tightened. While a dividend might feel like the company is looking out for your well-being, perhaps now is not the time to be extending itself.

Totally worth the wait
AIG is currently in the process of managing its liabilities, a plan that has already decreased its annual interest expanse by $165 million. With more reductions planned for later in the year, the company could easily reduce that figure by another $50 million, making a capital disbursement easier to bear by reducing operating expenses. While the company has benefited from a tighter ship, investors should look at its improved operations and see potential. There may be no dividend now, but it could be a hefty one if you wait a little longer.

Both Bank of America and Citigroup also have processes in place to help themselves reduce costs and lighten their loads, so the same goes for them. With the banks in transition mode from crisis aftermath to fully functional, they may be looking for the right mix of profits and operational accomplishments before doling out the cash to investors.

Don't take the absence of a dividend or small payout as a sign of weakness. All three businesses have made big strides to improve their underlying operations, with plenty of proof in the pudding. As a Foolish investor in it for the long run, a dividend can be an added bonus to the benefits of investing in a great company with staying power. These guys are just trying to live up to your standards before shelling out the cash to reward your patience.

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Fool contributor Jessica Alling has no position in any stocks mentioned -- you can contact her here. The Motley Fool recommends American International Group and Wells Fargo. The Motley Fool owns shares of American International Group, Bank of America, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, and Wells Fargo and has the following options: Long Jan 2014 $25 Calls on American International Group. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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