Insurer UnitedHealth bumps up quarterly dividend 33 per cent to 50 cents per share

MINNEAPOLIS – UnitedHealth Group is raising its cash dividend by more than 30 per cent once again, as the nation’s largest health insurer keeps pace with its rising stock price.

The Minneapolis company said Wednesday its board backed a dividend of 50 cents per share to be paid on June 24 to shareholders of record as of June 15. That’s an increase of more than 12 cents from the previous payout of 37.5 cents per share.

UnitedHealth Group Inc. has increased its dividend 30 per cent or more each year since 2010, when it became the first health insurer to offer more than a token dividend.

Once companies start offering dividends, they can face shareholder pressure to raise the payout and avoid diluting the yield. Investors have pushed the shares of UnitedHealth and competitors like Blue Cross-Blue Shield carrier Anthem Inc. and Aetna Inc. to several all-time high prices over the past year.

The nation’s second-largest health insurer, Anthem, raised its quarterly dividend nearly 43 per cent earlier this year. Aetna lifted its payout last fall.

The new dividend bumps UnitedHealth’s yield up to 1.7 per cent from 1.3 per cent, based on Tuesday’s closing share price of $117.75.

The stock climbed $1.15 to $118.90 in premarket trading Wednesday and has advanced more than 48 per cent over the past year.