MetLife raises dividend for the first time since 2007

April 23 Tue Apr 23, 2013 4:03pm EDT

April 23 (Reuters) - MetLife Inc, the largest U.S. life insurer, raised its quarterly dividend for the first time since 2007, sending its shares up as much as 7 percent on Tuesday.

MetLife received approval from the Federal Reserve in February to drop its status as a bank holding company, freeing the insurer from the central bank's scrutiny and allowing it to raise its dividend or buy back shares.

The Fed had blocked MetLife from raising its dividend or returning capital to shareholders after the company failed a Fed stress test in March 2012.

MetLife raised its second-quarter dividend by 9 cents, or almost 50 percent, to 27.5 cents per share.

The company had paid an annual dividend of 74 cents per share since 2007. It paid its first-ever quarterly dividend, of 18.5 cents per share, in the first quarter of this year.

MetLife's shares have been little changed since the February announcement because it is widely expected to be designated a non-bank SIFI, or systemically important financial institution.

If designated a SIFI by a U.S. government panel, the company would be subject to continued Fed oversight as it would be deemed "too big to fail".

"I think the timing is a little interesting ... I think they feel they needed to return capital before their hands are tied," Morningstar analyst Vincent Lui said.

Steven Schwartz, an analyst at Raymond James, said he assumed the company expected to be named a SIFI.

"The company is saying 'we are comfortable enough with the rules, as we understand they might be as of today, that we can at least deploy this amount regularly,'" he said.

MetLife shares closed 5 percent higher at $37.74 on the New York Stock Exchange.

The company is scheduled to report first-quarter results on May 1.

A couple walks along the rough surf during sunset at Oahu's North Shore, December 26, 2013. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

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