By: Vicky Wireko
Very soon, we will enter the season of annual general meetings (AGMs) for shareholders of listed companies on the Ghana Stock Exchange. These shareholder meetings will include that of some of our big banks.
Like me, the one thing any shareholder looks forward to is the annual dividend which shows one’s money is working for him/her. And yes, sometimes the happenings in the invested company and how the board and managers have been able to steer affairs in that year also count since that can inform the voting pattern.
But how will this key expectation of shareholders of the listed banks on the bourse be like, especially when in 2021 some dividends were dished out? Naturally, the expectations may be high especially with the banks who, close to the end of last year had reported some gains.
High expectations because if despite the difficult turbulence that hit businesses in 2020 with COVID-19 virtually stalling progress and development, some of the banks managed to pay good and unexpected rewards on shareholders’ investments in 2021, then it goes without saying that 2022 was going to follow suit. Unfortunately, that seems unlikely.
A local adage says that if you see your neighbour’s beard catching fire, you should ensure to have water on standby just in case. This adage spoke well to me with some level of expectations this week. As a shareholder in three listed banks, I was having some moments of disappointment. The reason?
In the wake of the haircut saga and the ensuing domestic debt restructuring programme (DDRP), some of us may have breathed a sigh of relief for not having invested in government bonds thinking we had escaped a second investment mishap. Some of the outcomes of the banking restructuring in 2017 have left some individuals with bitter lessons, having their investments still locked up with no access and no explanation to date.
However, there are reasons to believe that any such sighs have been short-lived because the ripple effects of the DDRP have indirectly come to haunt some of us.
A lead story in last Tuesday’s edition of the Graphic Business reported that shareholders of listed banks were set to miss out on any expected dividends for the 2022 financial year. That information was a hard one to process. That, indeed, is the reality of the local adage referred to above.
The reason adduced to this non-realisation of banks’ shareholders’ expectations in terms of dividends on their investments, was that the DDRP had gnarled the banks’ profits. This had made it difficult for any bank to make plans for dividend payments against 2022.
The story even went further to cite a directive from the Central Bank that all the 23 banks in the country were to suspend the payment of any such returns on investments to shareholders until their situations improved.
The publication cited a letter the Bank of Ghana had sent to the Ghana Association of Banks (GAB) asking for the suspension of the declaration and payment of dividends and other distributions to shareholders. The directive took effect from December 31, 2022.
The information on non-payment of dividends by the banks would be another bitter pill for individual shareholders. For those individuals who were directly hit by the DDRP it might look like a double curse having lost quite substantial sums with the cashing out of their premature investments in the wake of the uncertainties that surrounded the haircut.
The other losers however are those who have used dividends from stocks to shore up their incomes and partially compensate for their investments locked up for almost seven years now with no word from the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC).
As it stands now, some of the listed banks have been faithful in dividend payments and so something to look forward to each year. And now, this directive from the Central Bank.
Unfortunately, the harsh economic conditions of the day are making life and where next to turn to exceptionally uncertain. It is a very tough world to imagine where and which way to direct one’s investments for future returns.
Perhaps the future of investment will be in government treasury bills until another tsunami hits. It was encouraging news earlier in the week to hear that in its latest auction on February 17, 2023, treasury bills were over-subscribed by over GHC1 billion with subscriptions surpassing target. Encouragingly, in the prior week’s auction, government secured over GHC3.3 billion.
It may be that some individual bond holders who made their withdrawals have directed some of their reduced investments to buying treasury bills.