Bank of America is expected to find out from the Federal Reserve on Thursday whether it can increase its quarterly dividend, which has been stuck at 1 cent a share for four years, or if it can buy back shares.
CEO Brian Moynihan has said he wants to return capital to shareholders, but its unclear what Bank of America is seeking from the Fed. The Charlotte bank hasnt disclosed whether buying back shares or increasing its dividend is part of the capital plan the Fed is expected to rule on.
The Fed could reject any request from Bank of America to raise its dividend -- as the agency did two years ago -- or to buy back shares. That would be a setback for the bank, which has built capital to satisfy stress-test requirements.
This year, Bank of America passed the Feds so-called stress test, designed to measure how major banks would fare in a severe downturn.
Joe Morford, an analyst for RBC Capital Markets, told the Observer Wednesday that he would not be surprised if the Fed allowed Bank of America to raise its dividend or buy back shares. He said he suspects the bank wants the Fed to OK a dividend of 2 to 3 cents per quarter and the buying back of shares.
They fared well in the stress-test results, Morford said. I think theyve got the capital and should be allowed to start to return some of that to the shareholder.
But the bank didnt perform as well as some of its peers in the stress tests measure of capital ratios.
Moynihan, in a January fourth-quarter earnings call, said the bank is interested in giving capital back to shareholders.
Our intention is to return it, he said during the call.
Investment firm Oppenheimer & Co. said in a report last month that investors should have guarded expectations when it comes to whether the Fed will allow Bank of America or some other banks to either increase dividends or buy back stocks. The firm also noted that theres been a phenomenon of banks seeking higher dividends over buybacks.
Bank of Americas quarterly dividend is far below that of peer banks. For example, JPMorgan Chase & Co.s most recent dividend was 30 cents a share, while Wells Fargos most recent dividend was 25 cents. Meanwhile, Bank of Americas dividend has been at 1 cent since January 2009, meaning it hasnt budged for 17 straight quarters.
Since the financial crisis, the bank has tried, but failed, to get the Fed to allow it to raise its dividend. The Fed rejected the request in March 2011.
Last year, Bank of America didnt ask the Fed for a dividend increase.
For shareholders, a buyback would mean fewer outstanding shares of the banks stock, which, in essence, would give them a larger stake in Bank of America. It could also result in an increase in earnings per share if profits stay the same or rise.
Morford said he would expect Bank of America to seek a more substantial dividend increase next year.
They have yet to show a consistent earnings stream, he said, so I think theyre going to be focused more on the buybacks at this point. But even there I expect the plan to be conservative.