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National Bank boosts payout Add to ...

For the second time in six months, National Bank of Canada has boosted its dividend, making it the only Big Six bank to raise its payout more than once since the recession subsided.

Canada's sixth-largest bank by assets boosted its quarterly payout by 7.6 per cent, to 71 cents. The move comes after National Bank announced at the end of November that it would be the first of Canada's biggest banks to raise dividends in nearly three years, with a 6.5-per-cent increase at that time.

That move ended an unofficial freeze on dividend hikes in Canada's banking sector, as the country's major lenders preserved capital during the economic downturn.

Toronto-Dominion Bank is the only other of the Big Six to have boosted its dividend, by 8.2 per cent in March. Some analysts believe Royal Bank of Canada will raise its dividend this quarter or next. RBC reports earnings Friday.

National's dividend hike came as it announced a 13-per-cent increase in second-quarter profit Thursday, a day after it had confirmed the purchase of Wellington West Holdings Inc. in a deal that values the mid-sized brokerage at $330-million.

National Bank made $295-million or $1.48 a share in the second quarter, compared with profit of $261-million or $1.50 during the same period a year ago. (The earnings per share figured dropped because the bank issued shares in the past year.) Revenue rose 9 per cent to $1.15-billion.

National Bank chief executive officer Louis Vachon said the bank has the financial capacity to make acquisitions such as the Wellington West purchase while also increasing the dividend. The bank "continues to be well positioned to expand its activities while paying excellent dividends to shareholders," Mr.Vachon said.

National Bank's purchase of Wellington West was formally announced Wednesday night after the markets closed. The deal, which had been rumoured for more than a month, gives the bank a larger wealth management footprint outside its home province of Quebec.

Wellington West, a Winnipeg-based investment adviser, began as a boutique firm in the 1990s and has since expanded across the country. However, shrinking margins are forcing consolidation among brokerages.

National already owned about one-fifth of Wellington West. It purchased an initial 12 per-cent-stake in 2008 for $35.8-million, valuing the firm at about $287-million at the time. The bank had increased its holding in the firm since then.

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