More Standard & Poor’s 500 Index companies are paying dividends than at any time since January 2000 after Apple Inc., Nasdaq OMX Group Inc. and six other corporations initiated payouts this year.
The number has risen to 401, according to data compiled by Howard Silverblatt, S&P’s senior index analyst. His estimate for total payouts this year, which Silverblatt said is under review, is a record $279 billion.
Nasdaq OMX, the second-biggest U.S. operator of stock exchanges, announced its first dividend yesterday. Apple, the world’s biggest company by market value, unveiled one in March after canceling its program in 1996. Exxon Mobil Corp. increased its dividend yesterday for the 30th straight year, making its $10.7 billion annual distribution the largest in the world, according to Silverblatt.
Companies are increasing shareholder returns in the form of dividends and buybacks after the 2008 financial crisis led them to hoard cash to a record $1 trillion by the end of 2011. The rise in payouts coincides with a 13th quarter of better-than-estimated earnings.
“Given underlying fundamentals, low payouts and cash reserves, 2012 should set a record high for cash dividend payments,” Silverblatt wrote in an e-mail today.
S&P 500 companies distributed a record $248 billion in cash to shareholders in 2008, when 372 companies paid dividends, according to his report.