The Time Is Here: Will Bank of America Corp (BAC) Raise Its Dividend?

Investors in the nation’s second largest lender, Bank of America Corp (NYSE:BAC) , have patiently waited for tangible evidence of the bank’s hard work over the last three years. Its capital ratios are first rate, it has slayed billions of dollars in legacy legal liabilities, and the bank even recently announced a new marketing campaign designed to repair its tarnished image.

Throughout all of this, however, B of A’s dividend has remained at a token $0.01 per share. Is this the year that will change? My guess is “yes,” though it must first get the Federal Reserve’s approval to do so. On Thursday, we find out if it has.

Bank of America Corp (NYSE:BAC)Will the Fed let B of A raise its dividend?
Of course, the first issue is whether B of A has even asked the Fed for permission to return more capital to shareholders. Since having its 2011 request denied — humiliatingly, I might add, as its CEO Brian Moynihan had publically stated that the bank would request an increase prior to its denial — executives at B of A have steadfastly refused to discuss the issue.

The closest Moynihan has come is saying last October that boosting the payout “will be on the table” following this year’s stress tests. And as a side note, he went on to state an unequivocal commitment to generous distributions once they are allowed.

“All of the capital we have above the level we need, which is 9 percent, will go back to the shareholders at some point,” Moynihan said. “We are done with where we are supposed to be in six years today. If we did not earn a dollar, we would not have to raise another dollar of capital.”

Assuming it does ask, in turn, what’s the chance that B of A’s request will be approved? At first glance, I’d say the chances are good — assuming, of course, the request is reasonable.

For a bank to obtain approval, according to the Fed, it must demonstrate the “ability to maintain capital above each minimum regulatory capital ratio and above a tier 1 common ratio of 5 percent on a pro forma basis under expected and stressful conditions throughout the planning horizon.”

B of A satisfies this handily. As you can see in the chart below, its tier 1 common capital ratio in the third quarter of last year came in at an impressive 11.4%, more than twice the requisite 5% rate. And even after being subjected to the Fed’s “severely adverse” economic scenario, in which unemployment spikes to 12.1% by the middle of next year, B of A’s core capital remains above the mandatory minimum, coming in at 6.8%.

Source: Dodd-Frank Act Stress Test 2013: Supervisory Stress Test Methodology and Results.

Putting it somewhat differently, on a dollars-and-cents basis, B of A had $76.6 billion of capital above and beyond regulatory minimums at the end of the third quarter. While the excess dropped under the Fed’s stressed scenario, B of A still has a $21.5 billion cushion — click here to read more about how B of A performed in this year’s stress test.