"The increase in regular dividend payouts since 2010 shows that companies are gradually shifting back towards their pre-crisis dividend policies, and have a growing confidence to return cash as they report higher earnings," said Thomas Matheson, an analyst at Markit.
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It said that banks' dividends soared 32 percent to 30.2 billion euros. Spanish bank Santander paid out the biggest dividend last year, worth 7.7 billion euros, followed by food and drinks firm Nestle, with 6.6 billion euros, and pharmaceutical giant Novartis, with 5.8 billion euros.
Dividends growth outstripped earnings, Markit said, with more than half of large European firms increasing payout ratios – the percentage of earnings paid out to shareholders - while just a quarter reduced them.
The average payout ratio in Europe last year was 53 percent, up from 44 percent reported in 2010.