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Aflac (AFL) Okays 21.2% Dividend Hike, Boosts Shareholder Value

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Aflac Incorporated’s (AFL - Free Report) board of directors recently approved a hike of 21.2% in the first quarter 2022 dividend in a bid to return more value to shareholders. With this, the payout now stands at 40 cents per share compared with the prior payout of 33 cents.

Marking the 39th straight year of dividend hike, the increased dividend will be paid on Mar 1, 2022 to shareholders of record as on Feb 16.

Prior to this latest hike, Aflac had raised its quarterly dividend by 17.9% to 33 cents per share in November 2020.

Aflac has been a regular dividend paying company since 1992. Based on the stock’s Nov 15 closing price of $57.57, the new dividend will yield 2.3% to AFL.

Apart from regular dividend hikes, Aflac also actively engages in repurchasing shares. During the first nine months of 2021, AFL has bought back 32.2 million shares worth $1.7 billion. This Zacks Rank #2 (Buy) leading accident and health insurer had 67 million shares remaining under its buyback program as of Sep 30, 2021.

In addition to this, Aflac paid dividends worth $670 million to shareholders in the first nine months of 2021.

If a company consistently raises dividends each year along with regular share buybacks, the scenario highlights the company’s sound liquidity position. Similarly, Aflac boasts of a solid cash balance and robust cash generation abilities. AFL exited the third quarter of 2021 with a strong cash balance of $6.2 billion, which improved 20.8% from the figure as of Dec 31, 2020.

Meanwhile, solid cash flows enable Aflac to pursue multiple growth-related initiatives, which position AFL well for long-term growth.

With a sound solvency position and next debt maturity being in 2024, it becomes easier for Aflac to mitigate balance sheet risks and undertake accelerated capital deployment moves. Continued share buybacks are expected to provide a boost to AFL’s bottom line. It is worth mentioning that Aflac continued to pursue share repurchases even amid the ongoing coronavirus crisis, which was in contrast with other insurance companies putting their share buyback activities temporarily on hold. All these initiatives make the stock attractive to yield-seeking investors.

Aflac’s return on equity, a profitability measure that is used to identify a company’s ability to utilize its shareholders’ fund, stands at 11.8% as of Sep 30, 2021. The figure remains higher than the industry’s average of 11.5%.

Given the solid capital level of the insurance industry and an improving operating backdrop favoring strong operational performance, insurers like Lincoln National Corporation (LNC - Free Report) , Assurant, Inc. (AIZ - Free Report) and RLI Corp. (RLI - Free Report) have resorted to effective capital deployment to enhance shareholders value.

While Lincoln National and Assurant recently hiked its dividend by 7% and 3% respectively, RLI Corp’s board approved a special cash dividend of $2 per share.

LNC has been a regular dividend paying company since 2013 and consistently hiked dividends every year. Strong top-line growth, a well-performing Life Insurance segment and solid balance sheet should continue to aid Lincoln National in returning value to shareholders.

Assurant has a dividend yield of 1.6% and boasts a strong-performing Global Lifestyle business, a growing Service business, and solid capital management that should boost shareholders’ value.

RLI Corp has been paying special dividends since 2011 and increasing the dividend for the past 46 years, which has grown at an average of 5.2% in the past 10 years. RLI’s diversified product portfolio, a strong local branch-office network, a focus on specialty insurance lines growth and financial strength should continue to help boost shareholders’ returns

Shares of Aflac have gained 34.4% in a year compared with the industry’s rally of 32.3%. You can see the complete list of today’s Zacks #1 Rank (Strong Buy) stocks here.

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Shares of Lincoln National, Assurant and RLI Corp gained 73.3%, 15.6% and 6.8%, respectively, in a year.

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