Income suffers as £28bn dividends axed

Income suffers as £28bn dividends axed

UK equity income funds are set to suffer a £28bn dividend short-fall this year as almost half of UK companies plan to scrap payouts to shareholders, according to new data.

Link Group’s UK Dividend Monitor, published today (April 9), showed UK companies have scrapped payouts to shareholders worth a hefty £28.2bn, representing more than a third (34.5 per cent) of the pot of dividend funds planned for this year.

As of yesterday, 45 per cent of Britain’s listed companies had axed their payouts or were certain to do so.

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The first major blow for income came as the UK’s biggest banks scrapped their payments for the rest of the year following pressure from the Bank of England to maintain a cash buffer to help them through the coronavirus crisis.

According to Link, this accounted for £13.6bn of the dividends that have been culled.

Just yesterday further pressure from the central bank encouraged insurers, including Aviva, to suspend their payment until notice.

Banks and insurers cutting their payments will be particularly painful for UK equity income funds with a value tilt, which are typically more exposed to financials. For example, Schroder Income holds HSBC, Royal Bank of Scotland and Aviva in its top 10 holdings, accounting for 12 per cent of the fund. 

Jason Hollands, managing director at Tilney, said the impact of such dividend cuts would be “very dramatic indeed” for UK equity income funds.

He added: “The FTSE 100 dividend futures are pointing towards a potential 60 per cent cut in dividend yields."

Mr Hollands noted that UK equity income investment trusts were at a technical advantage as they could top up dividends out of their reserves at the discretion of their boards.

For example, the board of the £1.4bn City of London investment trust has confirmed its intention to increase the dividend it pays to clients this year, despite the fund's holdings having been ravaged by the recent market chaos.

The majority of dividends in the UK are concentrated within a small number of firms.

The banks and oil companies between them account for around 37 per cent of the UK dividend pool, and the banks have already cancelled payments on mass. For now, the oil giants are still paying.

Mining companies are also big dividend payers. Glencore is among those in the mining sector to cut their dividend so far and according to Link, more mining dividends are at risk.

The safest dividend groups include defensive sectors such as food and drink, tobacco, utilities, food retailers, healthcare and basic consumer goods, Link stated.

Such sectors have already seen continued demand for their goods and services as the pandemic unfolded.

Kit Atkinson, head of capital markets for corporate markets EMEA at Link Group, said: “Even as we face the deepest recession since the second world war, investors can take comfort from the knowledge that tens of billions of pounds of dividends will still be paid this year.