To investors' delight, Bank of America (NYSE:BAC) finally received approval from the Federal Reserve to raise its dividend this year, giving income investors a yield of just over 1%.
But that still trails the dividends of peers Wells Fargo (NYSE:WFC) and JPMorgan Chase (NYSE:JPM), among many others. So investors now have to ask whether Bank of America raise Its dividend in 2015? We asked three of our analysts what they think, and their conviction will surprise you.
My confidence comes less from the fact that Bank of America is a flourishing business (it isn't if profitability is the measure), and instead more from the fact that its quarterly payout remains embarrassingly low.
Indeed, even though it quintupled its dividend at the beginning of August, from $0.01 to $0.05 per share, Bank of America still only distributes a total of $2 billion a year. That's a tenth of what the North Carolina-based bank should soon be earning on an annual basis.
The wild card is the Federal Reserve, which has veto power over all capital allocations decisions at the nation's biggest banks. But assuming Bank of America continues to make progress in reducing legal and operating costs, I don't believe the Fed is likely to deny a reasonable increase when the comprehensive capital analysis and review process rolls around this March.
Patrick Morris: I couldn't agree more with John. I, too, think a Bank of America dividend hike is absolutely on the horizon for next year.
While its dividend payout ratio (the percentage of its earnings distributed to shareholders through dividends) stood at a remarkably high 70% through the first nine months of 2014 -- double rival Wells Fargo's 35% -- those numbers don't tell the whole story.
So far in 2014, Bank of America's litigation expense stands at a staggering $16 billion, $12.2 billion more than it had spent at this time last year. Excluding those major litigation expenses, its payout ratio drops dramatically into the single digits:
At this time last year, Bank of America's dividend payout stood at just 4.7%, and the Fed eventually approved raising its dividend from $0.01 per share to $0.05 per share.
All signs indicate a large amount of Bank of America's litigation costs will come to an end soon, and as a result, the Fed should allow BofA to boost its dividend in 2015 and beyond.
Jordan Wathen: Failing a second coming of the 2008 financial crisis, I think it is certain that Bank of America will pay a higher dividend in 2015 than it did in 2014.
CEO Brian Moynihan has laid out a good case for raising the payout. He has noted on conference calls that the company now has more capital than it did when it asked for the dividend increase to $0.05 per share. Additionally, the company's forward earnings power is easier to forecast, given that the worst of its litigation expenses are likely over.
But the most compelling reason for a dividend increase is that Bank of America's earnings are actually much greater than they appear. The company's earnings reflect expenses for taxes. However, due to losses from the financial crisis, BofA isn't paying cash taxes. Thus, its cash is piling up.