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Nationwide Boosts Dividend

Less than two weeks after reporting a 53% drop in fourth quarter earnings, Nationwide Financial Services (NFS) on Tuesday announced a 3-cent increase to its quarterly dividend.

The Columbus Ohio-based insurer boosted its quarterly dividend to 29 cents per share from 26 cents, citing its strong financial condition going forward.

When the company announced it earnings on Feb. 8, it had taken a $21 million charge related to the planned sale of its stake in a life insurance distribution business and a $66 million charge related to investment losses. However, it did note that total sales had increased 3% from the previous quarter to $4.8 billion. An increase in sales of variable annuities and public sector retirement plans pushed that number higher.

The stock moved up as much as 1.7% Wednesday on the news, but more recently was up 1.1% to $43.41.

"In our opinion, the company's exposure to residential subprime mortgages is modest, and we do not expect any defaults or writedowns, if they occur, to affect book value or significantly diminish operating earnings," wrote Argus Research analyst David Anthony. "We currently see no critical risks to the company's business model, credit ratings or general financial strength."

Anthony, however, maintained his hold rating as he waits to see if the company can string together solid back-to-back quarters.

Other insurance product companies like Prudential (PRU) and American International Group (AIG) were also trading fractionally higher.

The Nationwide dividend is payable on April 14 to shareholders of record at the close of business on April 1.

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