* To pay 3 cents per share in July
* Rivals Ryanair, easyJet have promised special dividends
* Aer Lingus shares down 1 pct, outperform market
By Lorraine Turner and Conor Humphries
DUBLIN, May 4 Irish airline Aer Lingus
offered its first dividend in more than five years as a public
company on Friday following a return to profit, disappointing
some shareholders who had hoped for a bigger payout.
Aer Lingus, which has not made any form of distribution to
shareholders since its stock market listing in 2006, said on
Friday it intends to declare an ordinary dividend of 3 cents per
share, to be paid in July.
This will make a total payout of approximately 15.9 million
euros ($21 million) this year.
However the airline, in which Abu Dahabi's Etihad Airways
bought a small stake this week, backed away from boosting the
payout with a special dividend like those promised by rivals
Ryanair and easyJet.
The chief financial officer of Ryanair, which is the largest
shareholder in Aer Lingus, welcomed the dividend, but described
the payout as "paltry," saying 50 million euros would be more
appropriate considering its 1 billion euro gross cash pile.
"If it was Christmas I'd be calling you Scrooge," said
Ryanair's Howard Millar, speaking at Aer Lingus' annual general
meeting on Friday.
British low-cost airline easyJet said in November it would
make its first dividend a bumper payout, paying a special
dividend of 34.9 pence on top of an ordinary dividend of 10.5
pence, making a total payout of 195 million pounds.
Ryanair, which in 2010 paid its first dividend after
listing 13 years earlier, and has said it will likely approve a
substantial dividend this year.
Aer Lingus said it expects to pay a final dividend of 3
cents per share in each of the next two years, subject to the
group's financial position being maintained.
"The board believes that this dividend represents a
reasonable proportion of profitability and will not be
detrimental to Aer Lingus' financial strength," the company
Analysts said shareholders may be disappointed, but
uncertainty surrounding the airline could be the reason for its
"Ryanair and easyJet set a precedent that there might be
some sort of special dividends here. There will probably be a
little bit of disappointment that there isn't," Davy's analyst
Stephen Furlong told said.
"I'm assuming they adopted a more prudent approach," he
said, noting the volatile operating environment for airlines as
well as uncertainty surrounding the group's pension deficit and
Etihad Airways bought a 3 percent stake in the Irish airline
on Tuesday, positioning itself as a potential buyer of the
indebted Irish government's 25 percent stake in Aer Lingus which
it plans to sell as part of its international bailout.
However analysts said Etihad would likely want to resolve
uncertainty over whether Aer Lingus may eventually have to
contribute to a pension deficit that rose to 700 million euros
at the end of 2011.
Shares in Aer Lingus were down 1.1 percent at 1511 GMT,
outperforming the wider market which was down 2.6