With that, I’ll turn it over to Jim.
James M. Cracchiolo
Thank you for joining us for our first quarter earnings discussion. Let’s begin with my overview of the business performance in the quarter and then Walter will discuss our financial results in more detail. Afterwards, we’ll take your questions.
As we look at the quarter the business is performing well. Fee based business growth is offsetting interest rate pressure and we continue to differentiate Ameriprise with our ability to return capital to shareholders. The fundamentals of our business are good. Client assets and retail flows are strong and we’re helping our clients manage through an unsettled economic environment.
While our clients are reentering the market a bit more in recent months, they remain cautious and continue to prioritize capital preservation. The markets while improved still present challenges. US and European average equity markets were only up slightly compared to a year ago and the low interest rate effects on the industry were evident in our results as well. On an operating basis for the quarter, net revenues were up 1% to $2.5 billion, EPS increased 9% to $1.45, and return on equity excluding AOCI rose to 16% from 14.9% a year ago.
Our balance sheet and capital remain among the strongest in the industry. With our capital position we have the flexibility to both invest for business growth and return significant capital to shareholders. During the quarter we returned 109% of our operating earnings to shareholders through share repurchases and higher dividends. We continue to buy back our shares at a healthy pace with 5.4 million shares purchased in the quarter for $300 million.
Meanwhile, we’ve been increasingly focused on raising our dividend as a portion of capital returned. As part of our plan, we declared another quarterly dividend increase yesterday boosting our quarterly dividend 25%. Over the past 12 months, we have announced three quarterly dividend increases which in total nearly doubled our dividend in a short period of time. Our dividend growth now brings our implied dividend yield to approximately 2.6% which puts us in very good company. In fact, in terms of total capital returned to shareholders, we are a leader among the S&P 500 financials.