Bank Of America's Dividend Cut One Of Many Facing Investors

NEW YORK (MarketWatch) -- The financial companies behind much of the trauma clobbering the broader market in recent months, and again in the just-ended week, have S&P 500 investors in 2009 facing the worst picture for dividends in at least half a century.

"I've been chicken to put out the 2009 dividend forecast. I usually do it in December, but I'm waiting to see what happens in Washington," said Howard Silverblatt, senior index analyst at Standard & Poor's.

The latest steps by the government to stem the financial crisis Friday helped lift the financial sector as well as the broader market in the early going, with equities initially rebounding for a second session after a string of losses.

That proved short-lived, though, with equities shaving gains to fall into an afternoon of wild swings, with financials among those getting hit.

Up more than 100 points at the start, the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed at 8,281.22, up 68.73 points, or 0.8%, leaving the blue-chip index with a weekly loss of 3.7%.

The S&P 500 Index climbed 6.38 points to stand at 850.12, with utilities, health care and consumer discretionary shares up the most, while energy, telecommunication services and financials fared the worst.

The S&P closed the week down 4.5% from last Friday's close.

The Nasdaq Composite Index added 17.49 points to 1,529.33, down 2.7% for the week.

"We saw that fourth-quarter dividends were very bad, and some of those companies actually paid out in the fourth quarter, and then reduced in November and December. The full impact has not been felt by investors yet, and more is on the way. Even on the optimistic side, we're probably going to get a 50-year record in the percent of decline over 2008," said Silverblatt.

Case in point: Bank of America Corp.'s dividend reduction from $1.28 to 4 cents, a slashing that brings the S&P 500 payout and yield down by 3.4%, according to Silverblatt's calculations.

Bank of America axed its dividend and posted its first loss since 1991 after the government said it would invest an additional $20 billion in the company and guarantee $118 billion of assets, as B. of A. digests Merrill Lynch & Co. .

Shares of Bank of America fell nearly 14%, proving the heaviest weight on the Dow.

A former dividend aristocrat -- a term reserved for companies that have paid out at least 25 years in a row, hiking each time -- Bank of America's recent reduction follows an October reduction from $2.56 to $1.28 after more than a quarter century of increases.


By Kate Gibson
  • CBSNews

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