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Bank Chiefs Poised to Benefit from Dividend Bonanza

Even as ordinary investors look forward to the prospect of larger dividend payouts by the big banks, another group is poised for a rich payday: bank chief executives. In the next few days, the Federal Reserve is expected to give a handful of institutions, including JPMorgan Chase and Capital One, permission to pay higher dividends, another sign of the remarkable comeback of banks since the depths of the financial crisis.

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Jamie Dimon, chief executive of JPMorgan Chase , stands to eventually reap nearly $6 million a year in dividend payments from the stock he owns, an amount that equals almost a third of his total pay in 2010. Capital One’s chief executive, Richard D. Fairbank, could earn nearly $3 million a year as the credit card giant weighs a similar move.

These figures are based on the number of shares the executives own and estimates from the banks about the percentage of earnings they plan to earmark for dividend payments. The increase in dividends is likely to occur in stages, so it may take until 2012 for the executives to collect the entire amount.

A JPMorgan spokesman said the payouts were on shares Mr. Dimon accumulated while at the bank, including 2.6 million he bought with his own money. A Capital One spokeswoman said Mr. Fairbank had been paid entirely in stock during his tenure.

To some extent, the expected windfall comes because banks have been paying executives a greater portion of their compensation in stock instead of salaries or bonuses.

Regulators hoped that if banks handed out more shares and other forms of deferred pay, executives would avoid the type of excessive risk-taking that contributed to the financial crisis in 2008 and 2009.

At that time, regulators also pressured lenders to cut dividends and shore up their finances as loan losses mounted. Even some of the strongest institutions halted their stock repurchase programs and cut their quarterly dividend to a mere nickel or penny a share. As part of the financial bailout in 2008, banks need federal approval before they could increase the dividends. Dividends for financial companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index fell to $19 billion in 2010, from $51 billion in 2007. JPMorgan Chase, for example, now has an annual dividend of 20 cents a share, compared to $1.52 before the crisis.

The larger dividends will also put billions of dollars into the pockets of big investors, like pension and hedge funds, as well as retirees who rely on the quarterly payouts as a steady source of income. JPMorgan has said it plans to pay roughly 30 percent of earnings as dividends. With analysts projecting the company to earn over $19 billion in 2011, that would translate to an annual dividend of $1.13 a share.

Several other banks have said they plan to pay a similar percentage of earnings to shareholders. So chief executives stand to reap especially large gains because they are traditionally among the biggest holders of company stock.

Corporate governance experts do not typically fret about such payouts since they help align the interests of management with those of investors more equally than other compensation practices. However, the dividends collected by chief executives will not be broken out in the compensation tables found in corporate filings. Investors must crunch the numbers themselves.

“Even a small dividend can add up to a pretty substantial amount of money,” said Paul Hodgson, a senior research associate at GovernanceMetrics International. “It could be just another bonus for some C.E.O.’s. For others, it is a huge windfall.”

The likely approval on dividends comes as the Federal Reserve completes a second round of stress tests for the nation’s 19 largest banks. Regulators are gauging whether they have stockpiled enough capital to weather a still-anemic economic recovery and meet the higher requirements put in place by new international accords.

The top banks will learn the results of the examinations by Monday, including whether they can raise dividends and buy back shares. With the Fed’s expected blessing in hand, financial stocks could get a lift in the coming days, as one bank after another announces their plans.

“Allowing some dividends to go up is a big vote of confidence in our banks,” said Jeffery Harte, an analyst at Sandler O’Neill.

In addition to JPMorgan Chase and Capital One, other institutions hoping for dividend increases include BB&T , Bank of New York Mellon , U.S. Bancorp , PNC Financial and Wells Fargo .

If Wells Fargo pays 30 percent of earnings to shareholders, its chief executive, John G. Stumpf, would reap nearly $400,000 a year in dividends, based on the bank’s expected profit in 2011. Using similar assumptions, PNC Financial’s chief executive, James E. Rohr, stands to earn close to $1 million a year.

Other chief executives, like Brian T. Moynihan of Bank of America and Vikram S. Pandit of Citigroup , may have to wait until the second half of 2011 or even into 2012 for a modest dividend increase, because their companies are recovering more slowly.

American Express , Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley have told investors they may eschew dividend increases in favor of things like investing in their businesses or buying back stock. Goldman expects to use some of the money to repurchase the preferred shares it sold Warren E. Buffett at the height of the 2008 financial crisis.

Some regional banks, like SunTrust Banks and KeyCorp , are forbidden by the federal government to raise dividends because they have yet to return the billions in federal bailout money they received in 2008. Depending on how those banks fare in the stress tests, the Fed may let them start repaying the government in the coming weeks.

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