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'Astonishing' US dividend growth sets record in Q3

A wobbly third-quarter stock market didn't stop companies from shelling out cash to shareholders, with U.S. investors getting the bulk of the benefits.

American companies issued a staggering $107.9 billion in dividends for the three-month period, a 23.4 percent quarterly increase that "comfortably" set a new record," according to data released Tuesday by Henderson Global Investors.

U.S. dividends rose "at an astonishing pace," the firm said in a statement. Globally, dividends hit $297 billion, a 2.3 percent gain, with the headline number somewhat subdued when adjusting for pressures a rising U.S. dollar had on exchange rates. Underlying global growth, which adjusts for special dividends as well as currency movements, index changes and timing, registered a more robust 9 percent that Henderson said was in line with the first two quarters.

While dividends surged, the stock market tumbled, with the S&P 500 losing about 9.3 percent.

Domestically, the dividend total got a nice boost from Kraft Foods' special $9.8 billion issue it paid after it was acquired by Heinz in July for $62.6 billion.

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Virtually ever sector except mining, which has been under pressure due to falling energy prices, and tobacco increased payouts. Walt Disney's move to semiannual payments also helped boost the total.

Banks were strong contributors, led by Morgan Stanley, which announced a 50 percent increase to $295 million.

"Developed markets are seeing the best growth as their financial sectors heal and consumers become more confident," Alex Crooke, head of global equity income at Henderson, said in a statement. "The U.S. is far ahead of the curve, propelling dividends forward at breakneck speed."

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The surge in dividends came amid a weak quarter for capital expenditures (down 5.6 percent) and hiring. Companies in the S&P 500 are holding about $1.3 trillion on their balance sheets, with total nonfinancial companies holding $2.06 trillion. Capex is expected to decline for the full year, while buybacks are rising, expected to climb 12 percent for the year, according to Goldman Sachs.