Shareholder payouts in record first-quarter rise

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The Independent Online

Shareholder payouts by UK companies soared 25 per cent in the first three months of the year, making it a record quarter for dividends.

But the £18.8bn total was boosted by a number of large one-off payouts, including £2.2bn made by both Vodafone and Cairn Energy. The special dividend trend of 2011 is likely to play an even bigger part this year, encouraging analysts to up the full-year forecast to £76.3bn.

British firms paid out £3.8bn more than in the same period in 2011, but the headline figures cover up signs of weakness, according to the latest Dividend Monitor from Capita Registrars.

Underlying dividend growth was just 6.6 per cent year-on-year, below Capita's forecast and much slower than the underlying 12.8 per cent increase in 2011. Charles Cryer, chief executive of Capita, said: "The picture is more complex than the headlines suggest."

The firm has revised its headline forecast for the full year up by £1.3bn to the new cash record of £76.3bn, but has cut its underlying forecast growth rate to 8.2 per cent to reflect the slower first quarter.

Mr Cryer said the economy stumbled in the fourth quarter as the eurozone crisis knocked confidence in Britain and raised fears of a new credit crunch. "But early evidence suggests the economy was in better shape through the first quarter and as the eurozone crisis abates, this may give companies greater confidence to return cash as the year goes by."

Some 159 companies paid a dividend in the first quarter, two more than the same period in 2011.