ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) - Alaska will pay nearly every one of its residents $878 next month as an annual dividend from the state’s oil-wealth trust fund, the lowest yearly amount since 2005, state officials said on Tuesday.
The reduced payout, announced by state Revenue Commissioner Bryan Butcher in Anchorage, reflects stock-market losses in recent years, as the dividend is calculated using a five-year weighted average of investment earnings.
The dividend is lower than the $1,174 paid out last year and is the lowest since each Alaskan got $845.76 in 2005. The highest dividend paid was in 2008, when the state paid $2,069.
Seasoned Alaskans are unlikely to be fazed by this year’s drop in dividend value, one expert said.
“I think people have gotten pretty used to how much it does change year to year,” said Neal Fried, an economist with the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development.
The Alaska Permanent Fund was established through a 1976 amendment to the state constitution. The fund collects a portion of state royalties from North Slope oil fields, which began producing in 1977.
The fund is currently valued at $42.68 billion, according to state officials. The fund’s value was largely unchanged in fiscal 2012, gaining a return of only 0.2 percent for the year, officials said.
The fund began paying out annual dividends in 1982. A person who received all 31 dividends since the program was created, including this year’s payout, will have collected $35,443.41, according to state Revenue Department officials.
In the early years of the dividend program, many recipients treated the annual payout as a windfall, Fried said. But the novelty appears to have worn off, he said.
“As every year marches on, we treat it more and more like we would a paycheck,” Fried said. “I would suspect that new arrivals treat it quite differently than those who have been here a long time.”
Most Alaskans will receive their 2012 dividend payouts on October 4 by direct deposit; the remainder will receive mailed checks.
To qualify for the dividend, most recipients must have lived in Alaska for a full year. Infants born in the past year are also eligible, as are members of the military and others with what are considered excused absences from the state.
But there are occasional cases of dividend fraud, with convictions resulting in revocation of rights to future payouts.
Last month, a 62-year-old woman pleaded guilty to dividend fraud for claiming in 2010 to be an Alaska resident while living in Oregon; her sentence included a disqualification for all future dividends. An Anchorage husband and wife were also indicted earlier this year, accused of fraudulently collecting $36,592 in dividends for themselves and their children during years that they lived in Hawaii.
Editing by Cynthia Johnston and David Gregorio