Banks ignore APRA's div warnings

Westpac's special dividend caps a bumper payout season for investors

The banking regulator's stern warnings to its charges last week to ease up on the amount of capital they planned to hand back to investors seem to have fallen on deaf ears.

ANZ turbocharged its payout, NAB delivered an improved dividend and Westpac this morning dished out yet another special dividend.

Of the three banks that have reported full year earnings in the past week, ANZ clearly was the standout, easily beating expectations on almost every measure.

Westpac this morning delivered a result that was largely anticipated with earnings growth of 8% during a period of the slowest credit growth since records began.

The special dividend - a distribution of excess capital - takes the full year payout to $1.96, up from $1.66 last year.

Westpac's point of difference is a focus on the domestic market with a strategy involving multiple brands; a strategy that elicited a fair degree of criticism because of its duplication of costs.

But the strategy appears to be working. Its new Bank of Melbourne subsidiary recorded mortgage book growth at three times the system and household deposit growth of five times the system level.

As for costs, it is about the most efficient of the big four with a cost to income ratio of 40.9% and a return on equity of 16%.

Like her contemporaries, Westpac boss Gail Kelly has provided a relatively upbeat assessment of the future in stark contrast to recent years.

With four years of record profits under her belt and with the housing market taking off, there appears to be no sign of the banks pulling back on dividends any time soon.

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