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Waste Management Moves to Big Dividend

Trash hauler Waste Management (WMI), a 1990s growth darling turned accounting blowup, waded back into the Wall Street zeitgeist Tuesday by declaring a 75-cent annual dividend.

The Houston company also announced second-quarter earnings of $176 million, or 30 cents a share, on revenue of $2.92 billion, compared with earnings of $217 million, or 35 cents a share, on revenue of $2.82 billion last year. The latest quarter's earnings were 32 cents a share before a charge, about 2 cents short of the analyst consensus compiled by Thomson First Call.

In explaining the big dividend increase (the company previously paid a 1-cent dividend), Waste Management described itself "first and foremost a big cash generator" and said allocating that money to shareholders is a high priority. It also cited the new tax treatment for dividends that has convinced many companies to raise their payouts over the past two months.

The new dividend comes out to about $450 million annually and implies a yield of 3.1% over its $24 share price. The company said it will also maintain its existing stock buyback program.

As for the earnings, Waste Management said second-quarter business conditions remained lackluster and said seasonally higher revenue isn't a sign of an improving economy. Second-quarter unit volume fell slightly from a year ago.

"We continue to focus on opportunities to lower our cost structure and to add new, profitable revenue streams to our existing base of business. Both our recent workforce reduction and the continued implementation of our routing optimization program should positively impact our cost structure in the second half of the year," the company said in a statement.

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