* FTSE 350 companies seen paying £75.1bn in dividend, highest since 2008
* Banks to drive increase as Lloyds, Barclays resume payouts
* Oil and gas biggest payers as shareholders step up demands
By Francesco Canepa
LONDON, April 7 (Reuters) - Large British-listed companies are set to boost dividend payments to levels not seen since 2008 over the next year, Markit data showed, as a recovery in the country’s economy allows banks which had been battered by the financial crisis to resume payouts.
Companies in the FTSE 350 index are expected to pay 75.1 billion pounds ($124.57 billion) in ordinary dividends in the next financial year, up 4.4 percent annually. That puts them back at highs not seen since 2008, according to a Markit analysis of balance sheets and projected earnings.
Britain’s surprisingly fast economic rebound over the past year has helped boost profits at lenders such as bailed-out Lloyds Banking Group. They are now set to reward their shareholders after a meagre few years.
“The banks are benefiting from improvements in asset quality, reporting better ratios on higher capital requirements and seeing improving profitability as a result of lower impairments,” Markit said in the report.
Banks are where the annual payout is set to increase the most, 32.5 percent, the data show, with both Lloyds and Barclays expected to announce dividends.
Total dividend payments coming from the sector were estimated at 10.6 billion pounds.
Oil and gas are expected to retain the top spot at 13 billion pounds, up 2.4 percent year on year. That is driven by an 11 percent increase expected from major BP, which earlier this year vowed to return more cash to shareholders.
Oil majors are facing pressure from some shareholders to control spending and return spare cash on concern over rising costs and the returns available if oil prices drop.
A further, small boost was to come from newly listed Royal Mail group, which Markit expected to pay out 40 percent of its profit, or 133 million pounds.
$1 = 0.6029 British Pounds Reporting By Francesco Canepa; Editing by Larry King