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What's new? Shareholders have reaped a nice gain from Commonwealth Bank of Australia this year, with an improved dividend and a share-price gain well ahead of the market.

What's new? Shareholders have reaped a nice gain from Commonwealth Bank of Australia this year, with an improved dividend and a share-price gain well ahead of the market.

In a low-credit-growth environment, in which balance-sheet repair and a reluctance to borrow money is crimping revenue growth, CBA inched its earnings ahead by 2 per cent to $7.1 billion.

As well as lifting the final dividend by 5 per cent, the bank has tweaked its dividend policy. The first-half payout will be lifted to 70 per cent from next year.

If that policy had applied in the 2012 financial year, shareholders would have received an extra 22 cents a share.

As it is, the bank is sitting on a gross dividend yield of 8.6 per cent, with a conservative payout policy.

Even if earnings growth remains subdued, the income being generated from this stock is exceptional.

During the year, all retail banks scrambled to attract more customer deposit funding to meet new international regulatory requirements. CBA pulled in another $30 billion to take its total customer deposits to $379 billion, providing 62 per cent of its total funding.

On the lending side, CBA remains the king of Australian property lenders, with a market share (including Bankwest) of 25.7 per cent.

That's only 10 per cent shy of the market share of National Australia Bank and ANZ combined. Home lending totalled $343 billion in the 2012 financial year.

CBA has put a huge effort, and plenty of money, into its technology and customer service in recent years. The transition to 24/7 banking is finally here for many customers. The way people do their banking is also changing, with ATM transactions back to 2003 levels, while online and mobile transactions are zooming.

It cost the bank $9.1 billion to run the business last financial year, with $4.9 billion going to 51,000 staff.

Outlook Consumer and business confidence remains becalmed, suggesting that demand for credit is still limp.

CBA expects credit growth of 5 per cent to 7 per cent in the 2013 financial year, which is fairly anaemic but enough to keep the earnings clock ticking over. The quality of the bank's loan book cannot be questioned, in particular residential housing.

Nearly seven out of 10 customers are paying in advance of their required payments and the average loan-to-value ratio across the portfolio is just 44 per cent.

Even under the most stressful conditions, CBA could cope with the potential losses. The bank's sources of earnings span insurance and wealth management as well as core banking.

Each division displayed reasonable results in the 2012 financial year, with just the market-related areas being most affected.

Price Exposure to defensive, high-yielding stocks has been a strong portfolio strategy this year. At $49.22 at the end of last year, CBA has increased 13.7 per cent so far this year and outperformed the ASX200 Index, which is up 5.3 per cent.

Worth owning? The bank says it has about 800,000 shareholders and possibly another 2 million indirect owners through superannuation accounts. Even the Treasurer is likely to be a shareholder.

This is one stock that should be included in any basic portfolio.

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