Dividend hopes dimmed with downturn

Just three lenders – Bank of Greece, Bank of Cyprus and Marfin Popular Bank – will pay out a dividend for 2010, a sign that the last 12 months were among the worst for businesses in decades. At the same time, around 50 percent of all listed companies were mired in the red for the first nine months of the year, which means that investors will have to settle with just 30 firms handing out a dividend for last year. A sore spot for the listed companies in Greece was a one-off tax imposed by the government on profitable companies for the third straight year, payable by July. Even firms known for paying out high dividends will be operating more stringently to protect their cash levels for 2011, which continues to be a year of uncertainty. Dividends distributed in 2009 reached 1.9 billion euros, versus 1.5 billion in 2008, 5.3 billion in 2007 and 4.3 billion in 2006. Out of the total amount returned to shareholders in 2007, 2.5 billion euros was from banks. In 2009, the largest dividend amount was made by tobacco company Karelias (4.48 euros per share), Bank of Greece (2.40 euros) and betting company OPAP (1.75 euros). Investors chasing after dividends will once again turn to OPAP, which offered the best dividend yield among Greece’s blue chips. Investors on the domestic equity market have low expectations for the first quarter of 2011 as trade and liquidity conditions have not improved in order to provide sentiment with a boost and help maintain any profits arising from the last three months of 2010.