Although American banks may appear to some to be all-powerful, they're actually constrained in many ways by the Federal Reserve. One big area of the Fed's purview is banks' shareholder remuneration. Every year, in its stress tests of American lenders, the monetary authority effectively determines if and by how much a lender can spend on dividends and/or stock-repurchase plans.
Happily, all eligible banks performed well in the 2022 edition of the stress tests. That's a boon for shareholders, as a group of those lenders were hoping to declare dividend raises and are now essentially 100% free to do so. Let's take a look at three of the more notable hikes, from Bank of America (BAC 2.33%), Morgan Stanley (MS 4.12%), and Wells Fargo (WFC 1.36%).
1. Bank of America
The most conservative dividend raise among our trio comes from Bank of America. After it passed its stress test, the sturdy old lender said it aims to lift its payout by 5% in 2022, beginning later this quarter, to $0.22 per share.
That should keep investors interested in the stock, which, like its peers, has generally declined in price so far this year. (Many pundits and investors are expecting an economic slowdown, after all.)
Good fundamentals help with the bull case for Bank of America -- it continued to do well, with beats on both the top and bottom lines in its most recently reported quarter. Additionally, the company managed to grow its deposit base by 10% year over year and raise total loans and leases by roughly the same figure.
The potentially looming economic slowdown is a concern for the lender, and it might be unable to hit those double-digit growth rates in the coming quarters. Nevertheless, its fundamentals should benefit from the Fed's recent interest-rate rises. Even though rates are notably higher now, they're still low enough to be attractive for many enterprises and individuals. Bank of America will likely weather the storm pretty well.
The company's proposed dividend raise is subject to approval by its board of directors. However, it's hard to imagine any scenario under which that body would object. On the rather safe assumption that it'll become official, the dividend raise would shake out to a yield of 2.8% on the most recent closing share price. The bank has not specified when the record and payment dates for the new distribution will be.
2. Morgan Stanley
After the stress-test results were in, Morgan Stanley could hardly wait to announce that it intends to pump its quarterly distribution 11% higher to nearly $0.78 per share.
Similar to Bank of America, this requires formal board approval. Meanwhile, the board gave the green light for a share-repurchase program of up to $20 billion that began at the start of the third quarter. This has no set expiration date.
Morgan Stanley's business is different than that of Bank of America and Wells Fargo. It doesn't concentrate on traditional lending; rather, its bread and butter is financial services, such as investment banking and investment and wealth management.
The success of such endeavors depends not only on the broader economy, but also on the state of the stock market -- which hasn't been all that impressive lately. All three of Morgan Stanley's business units have seen revenue dips of late, and analysts collectively are expecting falls in both total revenue and earnings this year.
If the economy slows down and those interest rates stay level or even rise, Morgan Stanley could take another few hits in the coming quarters. The flip side of that coin is if the economy does better than expected and the markets run consistently bullish, the company's businesses could start growing robustly, as it did in the not-too-distant past.
Since Morgan Stanley's new dividend-to-be hasn't yet been ratified by the board, it doesn't yet have a record or payment date. What we can identify is the yield, which, at the stock's present level, would be nearly 4.1%.
3. Wells Fargo
Wells Fargo revealed in a post-stress-test announcement that it would like to enact a 20% dividend raise, hiking its quarterly payout to $0.30 per share. That will almost certainly be ratified by the board of directors when it convenes for regular meeting later this month.
Wells Fargo also hopes to launch a fresh share-repurchase program to last around one year, starting this quarter. It hasn't yet provided details.
Alone among major U.S. banks, the company is hobbled by an asset cap -- of $1.95 trillion -- imposed by the Fed in 2018 following the ugly "fake accounts" scandal. While operators like Bank of America and Morgan Stanley are free like other financial companies to expand their all-important asset bases, Wells Fargo can only stand still.
The California-based bank has, to its credit, taken concrete steps to become sweet with regulators again. It's also hived off operations outside of its core U.S. lending business and done a decent job bolstering those two great finance-sector activities, credit cards and investment banking.
If or when an economic slowdown hits, both segments will become vulnerable. Also, higher interest-rate raises are bound to negatively affect mortgages. This could cause Wells Fargo a lot of pain, as it remains one of the country's largest housing lenders. As an investment, I'm rather cool on this bank, at the moment.
Wells Fargo is currently a member of the same "not sure when the record and payment dates of our new dividend will be" club as Bank of America and Morgan Stanley. As for the coming dividend's yield, it should be a shade under 3%.