GE hikes dividend by 12 percent, boosts stock buyback plan

Fri Dec 14, 2012 12:27pm EST

A GE logo is seen in a store in Santa Monica, California, October 11, 2010. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

A GE logo is seen in a store in Santa Monica, California, October 11, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Lucy Nicholson

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(Reuters) - General Electric Co (GE.N) on Friday raised its dividend by 12 percent, with the higher payout starting in January, and it also authorized the buyback of another $10 billion in shares.

GE, the largest U.S. conglomerate, did not follow on the heels of other big companies including Caterpillar Inc (CAT.N) and Legg Mason Inc (LM.N) that have pushed up their dividend payments into December, with an eye toward avoiding a rise in the tax rate on dividends scheduled to take effect in January unless lawmakers in Washington reach a budget deal.

GE company raised its quarterly payout to 19 cents per share. The board's share repurchase authorization is in line with GE's goal of buying back all the additional shares it issued in 2008 to raise cash in the face of the financial crisis.

"Returning cash to our shareholders remains a top priority," said Chief Executive Jeff Immelt.

GE shares were up 5 cents at $21.67 near midday on the New York Stock Exchange.

From July 2010 through December 2011, GE hiked its dividend four times by a total of 70 percent, in a move aimed at making up for a sharp cut during the financial crisis, when the quarterly dividend was slashed to 10 cents per share from 31 cents.

Friday's dividend hike comes one year after the prior increase, marking a return to GE's historic pattern on raising its payout.

"Investors need to realize the outsized dividend hikes that came following the cut during the crisis are over," said Jeff Sprague, analyst at Vertical Research Partners. "The dividend should track earnings growth from here."

(Reporting By Scott Malone; Editing by Gerald E. McCormick and Leslie Adler)

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