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More than 100 British companies halt dividend payments due to coronavirus pandemic

LONDON (Reuters) – More than 100 British companies have postponed or ditched dividend payments in a bid to preserve cash for what could be a lengthy enforced shutdown of large parts of the UK and global economy due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Data from investment firm AJ Bell released on Friday showed that retailers, housebuilders and telecoms firms as well as plenty of other sectors halted a combined 4.2 billion pounds ($5.2 billion) of dividend payments in March alone.

Two real estate companies — Persimmon <PSN.L> and Taylor Wimpey <TW.L> — accounted for a combined 1.24 billion pounds after builders started shutting construction sites as demands from new buyers plummeted.

More recently, the UK government urged people to avoid moving house and requested builders to halt non-essential construction work during the virus outbreak.

Persimmon postponed a 751.8 million pound dividend payment, while fellow builder Taylor Wimpey cancelled its final and special dividends for 2020, a total 485.7 million pounds.

Broadcaster ITV <ITV.L> said it would not pay one either after the coronavirus hit its advertising revenues and forced Britain’s biggest commercial free-to-air broadcaster to suspend production of its top soap operas “Coronation Street” and “Emmerdale”.

Retailer Marks & Spencer <MKS.L> ditched its 2019-20 final dividend too, saying it was no longer able to provide any meaningful guidance on its likely earnings for 2020-21 after its stores were shut.

There have only been nine exceptions to the rule so far this month, including from utility firm SSE <SSE.L> and Coca Cola HBC AG <CCH.L>, according to AJ Bell and even they were not straight forward.

SSE said it might need to change the timing of its full-year dividend of 80 pence per share for 2019-20 based on how the Covid-19 impact evolves, while Coca Cola was another firm that withdrew its guidance for the current financial year.

The London Stock Exchange said on Wednesday it would allow companies listed on its market to defer payment of dividends for up to 30 days due to coronavirus hitting markets.

(Reporting by Joice Alves, editing by Pritha Sarkar)

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