Investors hoping that dividend increases expected at large banks will trickle down to community banks are probably out of luck.
The research team at Raymond James & Associates wrote in a research note Wednesday that, though James Dimon, the chairman and chief executive of JPMorgan Chase & Co., is forecasting a large dividend hike this year, most smaller banks are more likely to retain earnings in this capital-is-king environment.
"It seems to be more of a large-cap bank trend," Anthony Polini, a Raymond James analyst who co-wrote the report, said in an interview Thursday. "But there are plenty of community banks that have dividends that are high and intact."
The analysts reported that community banks would be reluctant to raise dividends when a slew of acquisition opportunities is expected to emerge as ailing banks look to merge and as smaller banks find maintaining viability tough in a changing regulatory environment.
Daniel Cardenas, an analyst at Howe Barnes Hoefer & Arnett Inc., agreed that community banks would probably look to deploy capital for growth. (Howe Barnes said late last year that it was selling itself to Raymond James.)
"A lot of them have just raised capital," Cardenas said. "There is not a great rush to return it. There are better uses for it right now."
The Raymond James analysts wrote that small-cap and micro-cap community banks are the least likely to authorize dividend increases since many are still grappling with credit quality.
"A lot of the small banks are still struggling," Cardenas said. "For a lot of the community banks, it is probably too soon to talk about dividend increases."
Some larger community banks have yet to buy back preferred stock sold to the Treasury Department under the Troubled Asset Relief Program. Raymond James reported 39% of the banks it covers in that sector are Tarp holders.
Still, analysts said some banks could boost dividends. This list included: $16.3 billion-asset Cullen/Frost Bankers Inc. in San Antonio, $9.6 billion-asset Prosperity Bancshares Inc. in Houston, $21 billion-asset First Niagara Financial Group Inc. in Buffalo, N.Y., and $17.9 billion-asset Webster Financial Corp. in Waterbury, Conn.