Dividends fall at Britain’s biggest firms

BRITISH companies paid out less in dividends in the first quarter of the year than they did a year ago, according to new data yesterday.

A total of £13.6bn in dividends was paid during the first three months of 2010, down 2.5 per cent compared with a year ago, according to Capita Registrars. Heavyweights reducing their payouts were a major factor in the fall, with bank HSBC cutting £670m, and oil giants BP and Shell paying out £330m less between them.

Paul Taylor, head of dividends at Capita Registrars said: “Even a very strong performance from the rest of UK plc will make it difficult to make up for weakness at the top - as a result we expect the recovery in dividends to take longer than we had initially forecast.”

Capita Registrars, a unit of Capita Group that provides share registration, has downgraded its full-year forecast for UK dividends in 2010 to 59.2bn, up just 1.3 per cent from 2009.

In January, it had forecast five per cent growth.

Capita Registrars said it was the slowest annual rate of decline since the recession began, adding that 186 companies paid a dividend between January and March, up from 161 a year ago.

A total of 102 companies increased or reinstated payments, against 56 cutting or cancelling them.