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NZ freezes bank dividends

The central bank of New Zealand has frozen the distribution of dividends on ordinary shares across all banks in the New Zealand market, affecting the big four banks.

The Reserve Bank of New Zealand (RBNZ) has announced restrictions on all banks operating in New Zealand, freezing the distribution of dividends on ordinary shares for the duration of the COVID-19-induced economic crisis.

New Zealand-based banks are also unable to redeem CET-1 capital instruments during this time, with restrictions coming into effect immediately under revisions made to the Conditions of Registration and issued to all locally incorporated banks.

The deputy governor and general manager for financial stability at the RBNZ, Geoff Bascand, said the changes have been implemented in an attempt to “support the stability of the financial system” during the difficult economic climate caused by the outbreak of COVID-19.

According to the RBNZ, the restrictions will remain in place until further notice, with the aim of relaxing them when the economic outlook has “sufficiently recovered”.

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“This initiative further supports the stability of the financial system by maintaining higher levels of capital during the period of falling economic activity resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic,” Mr Bascand said.

The big four respond

Australia’s major four banks, all of which own subsidiaries in the New Zealand market, have acknowledged the changes introduced by the RBNZ and reassured shareholders that the latest restrictions will have minimal impact on capitalisation.

ANZ Bank New Zealand, the largest banking group in New Zealand and a wholly owned subsidiary of ANZ, stated that the RBNZ’s decision has prevented it from redeeming its NZ$500 million ($487.5 million) capital notes on 25 May 2020, “although it is able to continue to make interest payments on those capital notes”, according to ANZ.

“The terms of the capital notes also provide for their conversion into a variable number of ANZ ordinary shares in May 2020 or May 2022”, subject to certain conditions to be set out, according to the banking group.

“Conversion would result in an equivalent increase in ANZ’s common equity tier 1 capital (~12 basis points at level 2)”, ANZ stated.

The Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA), the parent company of Auckland-based ASB Bank, stated that it is “well capitalised” as at 31 December 2019, and that it is in the position to absorb the suspension of ASB dividends.

According to CBA, the dividends from its New Zealand subsidiary “only affect CBA’s level 1 CET1”, and its “strong level 1 surplus capital position” means the bank is “well placed” to absorb the difference, for the duration of the RBNZ restrictions.

NAB responded to the news in relation to its wholly owned subsidiary BNZ and stated that it does not anticipate the restrictions to have any “material impact” on NAB’s level 1 capital position, nor its level 2 capital ratio.

Meanwhile, Westpac announced that non-payment of dividends from its New Zealand subsidiary, Westpac New Zealand, “only affects” its level 1 CET 1 capital ratio.

[Related: Westpac appoints permanent replacement for Hartzer]

NZ freezes bank dividends
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