Dividends of S'pore banks set for strong comeback this year, says IHS Markit

Dividend payouts for DBS Bank, UOB and OCBC Bank are expected to make a strong comeback this year, provided the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) removes the cap on dividends, IHS Markit said.

The data analytics company believes MAS will remove the cap because of the banks' strong capital positions as a result of last year's conservative measures and improving economic outlook.

In a "bull" scenario, the three banks will increase dividends by an average rate of 40 per cent on a dividend per share (DPS) basis in fiscal 2021. The estimated total dividend payout is projected to hit US$5.1 billion (S$7 billion), compared with US$3.6 billion last year.

IHS Markit forecasts that DBS, UOB and OCBC will pay a DPS of $1.17, $1.18, and 52 cents, respectively, for financial year 2021, in a best-case scenario.

Yesterday, DBS closed 0.3 per cent, or 10 cents, higher at $29.68; UOB slipped 0.2 per cent, or six cents, to $25.63; and OCBC gained 0.3 per cent, or four cents, to $11.90.

Although DBS' and UOB's management have indicated the possibility of resuming their payout ratio at 50 per cent after MAS removes the dividend cap, IHS Markit assumes both banks will continue to pay dividends below pre-pandemic levels.

The same goes for OCBC, whose dividend payout ratio has fluctuated between 37 per cent and 47 per cent in the past five years. IHS Markit said the historical payout ratio range demonstrated by the bank provides flexibility to increase the dividends this year.

That said, IHS Markit does not rule out the possibility of a "soft" restriction from MAS to continue to call for the moderation of dividends for fiscal 2021 due to uncertainties in the global economy on resurgent Covid-19 cases arising from the Delta variant.

In a "bear" scenario, IHS Markit expects DBS, UOB and OCBC to pay out a dividend per share of $1.08, $1.14 and 48 cents, respectively. This represents about 45 per cent, 50 per cent and 44 per cent of the median earnings consensus estimate.

It projects DBS will pay 30 cents per share for FY2021's remaining quarters. UOB is expected to pay 52 cents per share for the interim and final dividend and 10 cents per share for the special dividend. As for OCBC, IHS Markit estimates 24 cents per share for both the interim and final dividend in fiscal 2021.

The trio of Singapore banks lead South-east Asian markets in terms of aggregate dividend payouts recovery this year, compared with Malaysia and Indonesia, which are projected to report largely flat dividends, the report noted.

In the Asia-Pacific, banks from Australia and India, aside from Singapore, are projected to see the most robust recovery in dividend payouts. The central banks of all three countries had imposed different forms of restrictions on dividends last year. Australia's and India's central banks have since removed or relaxed these curbs.

On the flipside, IHS Markit forecasts that Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia will see muted recovery in bank dividends in FY2021, as they are still grappling with a relatively large number of virus cases and the accompanying hits on their economies.

THE BUSINESS TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 22, 2021, with the headline 'Dividends of S'pore banks set for strong comeback this year, says IHS Markit'. Subscribe