BofA Breathes Some Life Into Bank ETFs

Moribund financial services exchange traded funds got some much-needed good news Wednesday when Bank of America (NYSE: BAC) announced the Federal Reserve granted it permission to raise its dividend to common stockholders for the first time in seven years.

BofA said it will pay a quarterly dividend of 5 cents per share up from the paltry penny a share it had been paying since early 2009. Today’s news removes some of the embarrassment suffered by the bank in April when it said it would be forced to suspend its planned $4 billion share repurchase plan and its previously announced dividend increase due to a calculation error related to the company’s acquisition of Merrill Lynch during the financial crisis.

The BofA dividend news sent shares of the Financial Select Sector SPDR (NYSEArca: XLF), the largest U.S. sector ETF, up 0.6% while the iShares U.S. Financials ETF (NYSEArca: IYF) added 0.55%. XLF and IYF have BofA weights of 5.76% and 4.41%, respectively.

BofA’s dividend news comes at a critical time for financial services. Entering Wednesday, IYF had tumbled 3.3% over the past month, highlighting the 2014 struggles of the financial services group, the second-largest sector weight in the S&P 500. Of the nine sector SPDR ETFs, only the Industrial Select Sector SPDR (NYSEArca: XLI) and the Consumer Discretionary Select Sector SPDR (NYSEArca: XLY) have been worse than XLF this year. [Industrial ETFs are Sagging]

Although BofA did not seek approval for a share repurchase program in its latest round of discussions with the Fed, the new dividend more than quadruples the stock’s dividend yield to 1.3% from 0.26%. Rivals Wells Fargo (NYSE: WFC) and J.P. Morgan Chase (NYSE: JPM) have an average dividend yield of 2.7%.