Payouts to shareholders plunged by a quarter in the first three months of the year. But the dividends slump is down to a distortion caused by massive special payouts awarded last year.
The latest Dividend Monitor from Capita Registrars published today reveals that payouts between January and March totalled £14.1bn, compared with £18.8bn in the same period last year.
But the latter figure was massively boosted by special dividends totalling £4.4bn from Vodafone and Cairn Energy in the first quarter of last year.
Underlying dividend growth is actually positive, the analysis shows, up 6.1 per cent. And, though the forecast for this year's payouts is £80.5bn, flat compared with last year's £80.4bn, underlying dividends should climb 8.6 per cent.
Justin Cooper, chief executive of Capita Registrars, said: "Special dividends in particular are unpredictable so it is quite possible that headline payouts may fail to top the 2012 total. But this is not a rout."
Instead, Mr Cooper, pictured, said the figures confirm a widespread view there should be healthy growth for dividends, although perhaps not as dramatic as seen in recent times. "There is a modest slowdown in underlying dividend growth underway, but 6.1 per cent should not be considered a poor performance. Dividends have played catch-up over the past two years, and although we do still expect healthy growth, it will be at levels more consistent with the performance in company profits."
Analysis of underlying payouts shows that cyclical companies performed the best in the first quarter, increasing distributions 8.7 per cent. Oil companies were the strongest sector, up 12 per cent and big pharma firms had the largest negative effect on the overall numbers, sliding 2.7 per cent, because of weakness at Astrazeneca, where the dividend was down in sterling terms.