GE holds dividend steady, analysts see December hike

Fri Feb 10, 2012 1:56pm EST

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(Reuters) - General Electric Co (GE.N) said on Friday that its board voted to hold its quarterly dividend steady at 17 cents.

The largest U.S. conglomerate had raised its payout four times in 18 months, with the last hike coming in December and representing a cumulative 70 percent increase from the 10 cent per share level the company had slashed it to during the financial crisis.

The rapid pace of increases was intended as a signal that the company had regained its confidence after its GE Capital business had been hard hit by the downturn. But Chief Executive Jeff Immelt has said the Fairfield, Connecticut-based company eventually intends to return to its historical practice of raising its dividend once per year.

Analysts, on average, expect a 2-cent-per-share hike to 19 cents in the fourth quarter 2012, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

The company is also waiting for the Federal Reserve, which last year became GE Capital's regulator, to give it the go-ahead to resume paying a share of GE Capital's earnings back to the parent company in the form of a dividend. Analysts have said that approval could clear the way for a larger dividend increase.

GE shares currently have a dividend yield of 3.6 percent, the fifth-highest in the Dow Jones industrial average .DJI, which has a 2.6 percent average yield.

(Reporting By Scott Malone)

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