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The board of Lazard Ltd. (LAZ - Analyst Report) approved a 20% increase in its quarterly cash dividend. The Asset Management company will now pay a quarterly dividend of 30 cents per share against 25 cents a share distributed previously. The first increased quarterly dividend will be paid on Feb 21, 2014 to shareholders of record as on Feb 10.

The newly increased quarterly dividend of 30 cents per share is equivalent to annual dividend of $1.2o per share. Based on yesterday’s closing share price of $42.41, the increased dividend of Lazard implies a dividend yield of 2.83% which is better than the industry average yield of 2.50%.

Lazard’s sturdy financial position supported by a strong cash balance cushions its solid capital deployment activity. Lazard’s shares are asset for yield-seeking investors due to its strong capital deployment activity. Since the beginning of 2010, it has doubled its quarterly dividend and returned more than $1 billion in capital to shareholders. Moreover, in the first nine months of 2013, the company returned $294 million to shareholders.

Based on 133.2 million shares outstanding as of Sep 30, 2013, Lazard will have to dish out nearly $40 million for the new quarterly dividend payout.

Besides delivering dividends consistently, Lazard is also garnering investors’ confidence through its share repurchase activities. During the first nine months of 2013 the company spent nearly $107 million to buy back 3.2 million shares.

On Oct 23, 2013, the board of directors at Lazard approved $100 million of additional share repurchase authorization on top of the remaining amount from the old authorization. This new authorization will expire on Dec 31, 2015.

Lazard is set to release its fourth-quarter and full year 2013 financial results on Feb 5, 2014. The Zacks Consensus Estimate for fourth quarter 2013 and full year 2013 are currently pegged at 60 cents and $1.80 respectively.

Lazard presently carries a Zacks Rank #1 (Strong Buy). Other top-ranked stocks worth considering include Artisan Partners Asset Management Inc. (APAM - Snapshot Report), Calamos Asset Management Inc. (CLMS - Snapshot Report) and Fortress Investment Group LLC (FIG - Snapshot Report). All these stocks carry a Zacks Rank #1.

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