Thousands of Bank of Ireland shareholders may be the first to sacrifice their dividends after the government's bank bail-out package introduced new rules governing the pay-outs.
The bank is already due to pay a reduced interim dividend in January, but the semi-annual payment has been thrown into doubt by the terms of the bank guarantee scheme instituted on 30 September. Bank of Ireland declined to comment apart from referring to its September trading statement in which executives stated an intention to slash dividends by 50% in 2009.
According to the terms of the Credit Institutions (Financial Support) Scheme 2008, published last Wednesday, the Minister for Finance will now have discretion over the payments of dividends by any bank availing of the rescue facility, which guarantees €500bn in deposits and debt held by the 11 participating banks.
The final rules on dividends have not yet been determined.
However, the draft document states they "will take into account the objective of achieving or maintaining... capital ratios".
In the September pre-close statement, chief executive Brian Goggin announced that the bank would slash its interim and annual dividend in half due to concerns over its capital position and credit losses going into next year. The move took about €300m out of investors' pockets.
Now those same shareholders could be forced to surrender another €300m if Brian Lenihan ultimately decides to halt dividends altogether until the banks shore up their reserves.
"Unless the minister moves very quickly, it seems Bank of Ireland will be unable to declare an interim dividend with their half-year results on 13 November," NCB bank analyst Christopher Wheeler said last week.