Capital One, the former credit card monoline
turned full-service bank, has announced it will slash the company’s
quarterly dividend by 87 percent from $0.375 per share to $0.05 per
share from the second quarter of 2009.

 

Capital One estimates the dividend reduction
will preserve more than $500 million in capital on an annual basis,
money it badly needs as it struggles to stay afloat amid a rising
wave of credit losses in the US.CapitalOne. US card charge-off and deliquency rates

Capital One has taken what is being viewed as
a pre-emptive move, citing recent economic data that indicates a
weakening economic outlook which is subject to a greater level of
uncertainty.

However, the company stressed that overall
credit trends within its own portfolio have been roughly in-line
with expectations throughout February, even though it acknowledges
it is in the middle of one of the most challenging economic
environments for decades.

Capital One said its pro forma
tangible common equity (TCE) ratio at the end of February was
slightly above 4.6 percent at the end of 2008. It added that the
dividend cut was equivalent to approximately 25 basis points of its
TCE, which measures a bank’s financial strength.

“We are moving to reduce future dividends
because in today’s unprecedented economic and market conditions,
our highest priority is managing our balance sheet to maintain its
considerable strength and resilience,” said Capital One chairman
and CEO Richard Fairbank.

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“As always, we work to anticipate and mitigate
risks, and to prepare for a range of possible downside scenarios.
Since the downturn intensified in 2008, we have taken additional
steps to reduce the risk of our balance sheet, growing liquidity
and low-risk investments and dramatically raising our allowance
coverage ratios.”

Gary Perlin, Capital One’s chief financial
officer, said: “We do not need to reduce our dividend in order to
meet any minimum capital requirements.

“Our balance sheet remains a source of
considerable strength today. Our readily-available and committed
liquidity position at the end of February stood at $45 billion,
reflecting the liquidity benefits of closing the Chevy Chase
acquisition.”

Capital One’s move was not
unexpected, given that rivals JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo took
similar steps in recent weeks to preserve capital.

In January, Capital One posted
disappointing quarterly results and forecast more credit losses in
2009 as US consumers struggle with recession and the highest
unemployment rate in 25 years. Soon afterwards, it stated that
annual net charge-off rates for US credit cards had risen to 7.82
percent in January from 7.71 percent in December, while the rate
for loans at least 30 days delinquent had increased from 4.78
percent in December to 5.02 percent in January.

According to Moshe Orenbuch, an analyst with
Credit Suisse First Boston, the dividend cut is a prudent measure
and reduces the risk of a dilutive capital raise.

“At the end of February, Capital One’s
pro-forma TCE ratio was slightly above the year-end level
of 4.6 percent,” Orenbuch said.

“A reduced dividend coupled with a shrinking
asset base should allow the company to organically increase its TCE
ratios in 2009. When losses moderate, earnings should move ratios
closer to the long-term targeted range of 5.5 to 6 percent.

“Credit quality remains the largest risk
factor,” Orenbuch added. “We expect continued worsening of credit
in all asset classes throughout 2009.

“Credit card losses are forecasted to
deteriorate faster than the industry throughout 2009 as a result of
implementation of minimum payment guidelines.”