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Copy of Corona Virus Chronicle (XIII) - The Dividend Debacle II

'despite years of balance sheet building, greater regulatory oversight and the fact that cancelling dividends actually retains balance sheet liquidity, bank shares are tumbling.'

Financial Market Reaction - Dividends. again.

We wrote about bank dividends in VC XII and suggested that despite the technical difficulties of cancelling dividends after the XD date, the risks to banks are now such that: The effects of the Virus are, potentially, long term periods of loan delinquencies on most types of lending. Over the past ten years, banks have sought to bolster balance sheets to counter cyclically induced periods of credit deterioration, but nothing approaching the scale of the virus problem has ever been factored into the regular stress testing programmes of bank regulators.”


Now the PRA - “Prudential Regulatory Authority” - the agency that oversees UK banks has expressed a strong desire that banks take all possible opportunities to conserve capital. HSBC has said “we expect reported revenues to be impacted…..alongside higher expected loan losses”. HSBC is off 8% at the time of writing.


The important point here is that despite years of balance sheet building, greater regulatory oversight and the fact that cancelling dividends actually retains balance sheet liquidity, bank shares are tumbling. It perhaps shows that the rally of last week was not built from a solid base. By that we mean a base of full knowledge regarding the material extent of the economic effects emanating from the virus.


In the last commentary we also discussed “ex dividend” status and the effect of a stock being declared as trading without the dividend - which is normally a share price fall to reflect the value of a company effectively shrinking by the amount of the dividend. So logically, we should expect to see the value of these stocks going back up as the dividend is cancelled after the ex div date.

Not the case… Barclays, has lost a further 7p at the time of writing this, effectively an additional 8%. This additional fall reflects two things over and above the realisation of income loss at this time; the realisation that Banks will, yet again, be centre stage in this chapter and the feeling that Bank Regulators are more concerned than we would have ever thought. There is also the political aspect in this difficult time. Expressed as “concern” that companies are rewarding investors when the Government is stepping in to help their hapless clients. This is nearer the truth of the reason for the dividend stop order, which is also accompanied by salary and bonus reductions for certain staff.


However, adding all the elements together does mean that news-flow and sentiment is negative and that is the important factor right now. Soon, the results season will be with us for Q1 earnings which will properly guide us on the likely extent of business slowdowns.

It will be fascinating to see the extent of the abrupt stop to business; that is as long as companies are able to file the statement in the first place.


Peter Smart

Head of Investments

SaSo Strategic Advisers

1st April 2020

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About the Author


Peter Smart, Head of Investments

peter.smart@sasostrategic.com

01534 488778


Peter has been involved in investment markets since 1985, working within the private client areas of two global banks and for 22 years as the fixed income specialist for the UK Wealth manager, Brewin Dolphin.  More recently Peter formed part of the investment team at bridport in Jersey specialising in the provision of specialist, income focussed portfolio’s.



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