Shareholders enjoy record dividend year

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Payouts to shareholders broke records last year, with dividends soaring to £80.4bn.

That's an increase of 16.2 per cent over 2011's total of 69.2bn, according to Capita Registrars.

But the total was flattered by special dividends, which accounted for £6.8bn. Excluding specials, dividends actually totalled £73.6bn in 2012. Major special dividends during the year came from Vodafone.

With fewer special dividends expected this year, Capita predicts payouts to come in again at £80.4bn.

However, the picture remains positive, the firm said, forecasting that underlying dividend growth in 2013 will look healthy at 6.7 per cent, compared with last year's underlying growth of 8.9 per cent.

The firm said UK equities are yielding 4.5 per cent (gross) for the year to come, with the large cap stocks offering 4.6 per cent and the FTSE 250 yielding 3.3 per cent.

Justin Cooper, chief executive of Capita Registrars said: "Dividends cannot outstrip wider GDP growth indefinitely. Sooner or later, companies must invest in order to keep their profits and operating cash flows rising, and they must protect their balance sheets too. In addition we expect some companies to divert more cash to M&A activity which might otherwise have been used for dividends."

Some 437 companies paid a dividend in 2012. Dividends from FTSE 100 and FTSE 250 companies both rose at the same pace over the course of the year, on an underlying basis, although the mid-cap firms were more resilient in the fourth quarter.