Dividend suspension to cost investors £5bn

BP's suspension of dividend payouts for the first time in more than 60 years will cost investors almost £5 billion on top of the recent plunge in its shares.

Last year the group paid out more than £7 billion in dividends, accounting for £1 out of every £7 paid out by FTSE 100 companies.

The first quarter payment of 8.7p a share, which has now been suspended, was worth £1.63 billion, leaving a total bill of £4.9 billion assuming similar levels for the second and third quarter of 2010.

Defined benefit pension schemes are typically thought to have around 1.5% of their assets invested directly in BP, accounting for around 6% of all the money they hold in UK equities.

As well as denting pension performance, there could be a wider impact because lower dividend income means major institutional investors will have less funds to support firms raising money in the City by selling new shares.

But the National Association of Pension Funds stressed that neither the recent share price fall nor the suspension of the dividend would impact on the ability of pension funds to pay people's retirement income.

Joanne Segars, chief executive of the NAPF, said: "The ability of pension funds to pay the pensioners of today and tomorrow should not be affected.

"Pension funds are very long-term investments, and are diversified across many asset classes and many companies.

"We estimate that BP accounts for around 1.5% of a typical pension fund portfolio, so the damage done by the fall in the share price and the dividend decision is not material to the provision of pensions in the UK."

But she added that there remained considerable uncertainty around the company's future dividend policy and its growth prospects.

"Shareholders will have some testing questions for the board," she said.

It is also thought that some individual investors may have large holdings in BP in order to benefit from its previously generous dividend payment.

But Laith Khalaf, pensions analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, said: "If people are relying on dividends from BP for income, that is probably on top of the state pension and a private pension, as it would be unwise not to have diversified."

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