The Only Reason Bank of America Wouldn't Raise Its Dividend on March 26


The majority of evidence suggests Bank of America will increase its dividend this year. By how much, we don't know. But if everything goes as planned, the bank will let shareholders know on March 26.

However, what if I'm wrong? What if, like last year, shareholders are disappointed? More specifically, what would cause so many analysts and commentators to be off base for a second year in a row?

The answer is simple. While the ability to raise its dividend is contingent upon regulatory approval as a part of the ongoing Comprehensive Capital Analysis and Review process, Bank of America must first request an increase.

If it does, it seems likely the appeal would be granted. The Charlotte-based lender has built up excess capital that's lying fallow on its balance sheet. In addition, its earnings are both larger and more consistent than they were a year ago -- if you'll recall, this was why the bank limited its 2013 request to share buybacks.

This begs the question: Why wouldn't Bank of America ask the Federal Reserve to increase its dividend this year? And it seems to me the answer to this is twofold.

First, it's no secret CEO Brian Moynihan will tread conservatively. He was lambasted after the Fed vetoed Bank of America's plans for a modest dividend increase in 2011. Granted, the bank didn't do itself any favors given its executives had already intimated that a bigger payout would be forthcoming.

And second, Moynihan has been clear he prefers buybacks. "We need to get back most of the shares we issued in the crisis that caused all the dilution," he told Fortune's Shawn Tully almost three years ago.

These reasons aside, I've been clear I believe the bank will bite the bullet this go-around. I could be wrong; I was last year. But either way, we'll know on the afternoon of March 26.

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