Malaysian banks unswayed by moves to cut dividends

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KUALA LUMPUR – As elsewhere scrap or defer dividend payments, investors in lenders can still expect their usual cash rewards.

Malayan Banking, the biggest lender by market value, plans to keep its payout ratio of as much as 60 per cent its profit after tax and minority interests, on top of paying a 2019 interim dividend on May 6, its spokesperson said. CIMB Group Holdings is more cautious, saying dividend payments will depend on profits and liquidity needs even if banks currently have enough capital.

Regulators from the UK to Vietnam have advised lenders to or delay to ensure they have enough buffers to weather an expected economic downturn. Malaysia has imposed no such guidance, with analysts expecting banks to maintain their dividend policy. Combined, the nation’s three biggest lenders announced RM12.6 billion (S$4.1 billion) in payouts last year.

“We opine that Malaysian banks are facing the current crisis in a position of strength,” said Imran Yassin Yusof, senior analyst at MIDF Amanah Investment Bank Bhd. “This is due to the fact that Malaysian banks are well capitalized and we believe that they will be able to weather the current crisis.”

A representative for Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) declined to comment.

STRESS TEST

The central bank has cut its policy rate by 50 basis points this year to 2.5 per cent while releasing RM30 billion into the banking system by lowering the reserve ratio and relaxing other capital requirements. Bank Negara Malaysia has also ordered banks to give an automatic loan moratorium for individuals and small businesses for six months and asked lenders to stress test their books against the impact of the pandemic.

“On the surface, anyway, there is no apparent need to hold back on dividends as BNM is opting for in-house policies,” said Stephen Innes, chief market strategist at AxiCorp Ltd.

Hong Leong Investment Bank Bhd equity analyst Chan Jit Hoong said he wouldn’t completely discount the possibility of Malaysian banks deferring or reducing dividend payments.

“It really depends on how prudent BNM wants to approach the situation, after all, the loan moratorium of six months would have already somewhat affected banks’ cash flow in the short-term,” he added. “However, if I have to stick my neck out to make a view, I would argue for a case of intact dividend payouts but at a lower proportion compared to last year.”

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