Companies paid out a record £18.8 billion in dividends in the first quarter of 2012, according to the latest dividend monitor from Capita Registrars.
However, this was lower than expected and masked by a few very large payments of £2.2 billion from Vodafone and Cairn Energy. Vodafone’s extraordinary payout came as a result of excellent financial results from Verizon Wireless.
The data found that underlying growth, excluding one-off factors was 6.6 per cent higher than in the first quarter in 2011, barely half of the 12.8 per cent growth seen in 2011’s first quarter and below the forecasted growth rate for this year.
In total companies paid out £3.8 billion more than in the same period in 2011. Capita Registrars noted that special dividends were prevalent in 2011 and they expect this trend to continue in 2012.
The FTSE 250 Index had the weakest level of dividend payouts of any of the major stock indices as companies from the second level of the London stock market paid out nine per cent less in dividends, the first quarterly decline for three years.
Meanwhile the FTSE 100 posted underlying growth of 7.7 per cent, which Capita described as “disappointing.”
However, Capita Registrars chief executive, Charles Crier, said 2012 is still likely to be a record year for dividend payouts.
He said: "We have upgraded our headline forecast to reflect the big one-offs, but the picture is more complex than the headlines suggest.
"The economy stumbled in the fourth quarter as the euro zone crisis knocked confidence in Britain and raised fears of a new credit crunch.
"Roughly two thirds of firms who paid in the first quarter decided their dividends before the new year – the fourth quarter economic weakness seems to have caused them to show greater caution.
"For this reason we expect dividend growth will accelerate from here, but not enough to meet our original underlying forecast.
"Europe’s problems remain very serious – with the focus moving towards Spain, the crisis could return at any time, so the risks for the rest of the year are high.”
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