Aer Lingus’ debut dividend ‘paltry’

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Irish airline Aer Lingus offered its first dividend in more than five years as a public company yesterday following a return to profit, disappointing some shareholders who had hoped for a bigger payout.

Aer Lingus, which has not made any form of distribution to shareholders since its stock market listing in 2006, said it intends to declare an ordinary dividend of 3 cents per share, to be paid in July.

This will make a total payout of approximately 15.9 million euros this year.

However the airline, in which Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Airways bought a small stake this week, backed away from boosting the payout with a special dividend like those promised by rivals Ryanair and easyJet.

The chief financial officer of Ryanair, which is the largest shareholder in Aer Lingus, welcomed the dividend, but described the payout as “paltry”, saying 50 million euros would be more appropriate considering its 1 billion euro gross cash pile.

“If it was Christmas I’d be calling you Scrooge,” said Ryanair’s Howard Millar, speaking at Aer Lingus’ annual general meeting.

British low-cost airline easyJet said in November it would make its first dividend a bumper payout, paying a special dividend of 34.9p on top of an ordinary dividend of 10.5p, making a total payout of £195m.

Ryanair, which in 2010 paid its first dividend after listing 13 years earlier, has said it will likely approve a substantial dividend this year.

Aer Lingus said it expects to pay a final dividend of 3 cents per share in each of the next two years.