JPMorgan slashes dividend


Posted at Feb 24 2009 10:24 AM | Updated as of Feb 24 2009 06:55 PM

NEW YORK - JPMorgan Chase & Co., the second-largest US bank, slashed its common stock dividend 87 percent on Monday, a surprise move by a lender considered among the strongest in the US financial sector.

The bank also said it has been "solidly profitable" this quarter, and that the outlook for the three-month period is "roughly in line" with analyst forecasts. Shares rose 5.5 percent in after-hours trading.

JPMorgan said its decision to lower its quarterly dividend to $0.05 per share from $0.38 will save $5 billion of common equity a year. It hopes the lowered payout will help it pay back the $25 billion of capital it got in October from the government's Troubled Asset Relief Program faster.

"Extraordinary times must call for extraordinary measures," Chief Executive Jamie Dimon said on a conference call. He said JPMorgan was "not asked by anybody" to cut the payout, but did so out of a "normal abundance of caution."

Shares of JPMorgan, a Dow Jones industrial average component, rose $1.08 to $20.59 after-hours, after falling $0.39 during regular trading. The New York-based lender announced the dividend cut after US markets closed.

"I will accept a lower dividend if they are able to repay the government faster," said Chris Armbruster, senior analyst at Al Frank Asset Management in Laguna Beach, California, which owns JPMorgan shares. "The sooner they get out from that, the better."

JPMorgan expects in the first quarter to record about $2 billion of credit costs and writedowns at its investment bank, to boost reserves for credit cards and home lending, and to write down about $400 million in private banking.

It also said earnings expectations are "on track" from its September purchase of the banking units of failed lender Washington Mutual Inc.

Analysts, on average, expected JPMorgan to post a quarterly profit of $0.35 per share on revenue of $21.96 billion, according to Reuters Estimates.

Other banks

Bank of America Corp. and Citigroup Inc., JPMorgan's largest rivals, have slashed their quarterly dividends to a penny per share since November.

Each has gotten $45 billion of TARP money since October, and unlike JPMorgan also got a government bailout that capped losses on billions of dollars of toxic assets.

Dimon said the dividend cut reflects the potential, not the certainty, for a "highly stressed environment" of a two-year economic recession where the US unemployment rate rises above 10 percent, and home prices fall 40 percent from their peaks.

JPMorgan said it hopes to return to a "more normalized" dividend when the environment stabilizes.

"It puts us in a position to do it sooner," Dimon said.

"It's a prudent use of capital," said Bill Fitzpatrick, an analyst at Optique Capital Management in Milwaukee, which owns the bank's shares. "It's difficult to raise new capital, so this is an excellent source of funds."

Many analysts have said Wells Fargo & Co., which is the fourth-largest US bank and received $25 billion of TARP money, may cut its $0.34 per share quarterly dividend, which equates to a 12.3 percent yield. Spokeswoman Julia Tunis Bernard declined to comment.

"I would not be surprised in the slightest to see more dividend cuts, especially from banks that haven't done it, and those heavily reliant on government funds," Armbruster said.