ECONOMY

Dividends on 2010 agenda

The countdown has started for banks to repurchase their preferred shares sold to the government and for their move away from state protection. The share acquisition will be completed by banks in May, marking one year from when they were issued. Banks are in a hurry to buy them for different reasons but the most important is the pressure shareholders are putting on lenders’ boards to distribute dividends. After handing out dividends for decades, the year 2008 was the first time lenders did not issue any cash payment to shareholders – nor will they be able to provide a dividend this year. The terms of the state bailout package included forbidding dividends for the duration of financial protection. According to sources, banks will attempt to appease shareholders by approving a small interim dividend in the summer from next year’s profits. The first step will be made by Alpha bank, which was the first lender to sign on to the rescue package. Other banks quickly followed, even though many did so reluctantly, on the grounds that their capital structure did not need any assistance. Alpha Bank announced last week a 986-million-euro share-capital increase in order to repurchase 940 million euros in shares sold to the government. National Bank has also completed an increase in share capital of 1.25 billion euros and is in a position to buy back preferred stock worth 350 million euros. On the other hand, EFG Eurobank and Piraeus Bank have ruled out any increases in their share capital, adding that they will pay back the government without selling further shares.