Why tap stock dividends now?
Allan Sloan is a senior editor-at-large at Fortune
TEXT OF INTERVIEW
Scott Jagow: Now up to this point, the big Wall Street banks haven't touched their stock dividends. They've gone overseas and sold stock to raise money, but until now, they've left their dividends alone.
Allan Sloan from Fortune Magazine, why have they waited so long to do something like this?
Allan Sloan: They say that they want to help their shareholders. In the case of, say, Merrill Lynch, they sold $5.6 billion of common stock at a low price, and they're paying out $1.2 billion a year in dividends, you think it would make much more sense to sell less stock and cut the dividend. But at Merrill and at Morgan and at Citi, I think what they would tell you is that they're doing this to keep the share price up. But it astounds me that here is Citi, especially, which borrowed $7.5 billion of money at 11 percent -- which is sort of expensive -- and meanwhile, it's paying a $10.8 billion a year dividend, you'd think they'd be a lot better off just cutting the dividend in half. But then again, I guess I'm not astute enough to understand the finances of Citi -- unlike, say, the previous people who were there and lost their jobs.
Jagow: Well, do you think this has anything to do with the fact that Citi and Merrill and Morgan Stanley have all reached out to Middle Eastern governments, China and Singapore, and those deals are kind of bad for the existing shareholders -- do you think by not cutting the dividend, they're placating those shareholders?
Sloan: I think they're trying to placate the shareholders. And the reason that all of these places are selling stock at relatively low prices is they feel they don't have a choice, and they need to have the money. They're raising the money while they can get it, and it's just very expensive. But it's the old story -- the existing shareholders are better off owning 95 percent of something and selling 5 percent cheap than taking the risk of owning 100 percent of something that really falls the price.
Jagow: All right. Allan Sloan from Fortune Magazine. Thank you.
Sloan: You're welcome.