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Wells Fargo Wants to Revive Dividend

Wells Fargo executives said common-stock investors have been 'patient' and deserve a return to historic dividend norms.

NEW YORK (

TheStreet

) --

Wells Fargo

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(WFC) - Get Report

executives said Wednesday that they are anxious to return the dividend on common stock to its pre-crisis level, but held back by regulatory uncertainty.

"We are eager to return more of our capital back to our shareholders - they have been very patient," said CEO John Stumpf, echoing a sentiment expressed by other big-bank peers. "We had historically paid in that 35% to 40% range, give or take. We will have to see how we pace into that. Obviously, it would be in consultation with our regulator. But we are just eager to get back to a more appropriate level."

CFO Howard Atkins called the dividend the "top priority" now that capital levels are strong. He added that "opportunistic share repurchase" could be in the cards as well. But Stumpf said management is waiting for "all parties

to line up" before executing on a dividend hike.

The mortgage crisis required every bit of capital from 2007 to 2009, forcing big banks to lower their quarterly payouts to a nickel or less. In the case of

Citigroup

(C) - Get Report

, which is still 12% government-owned, its dividend was cut to nil.

Banks are still looking for clarity from regulators regarding new capital requirements. Some are also under a restriction related to Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) bailout funds that prevents them from increasing dividends without explicit approval.

But in recent quarters, investors have been itching for a return to the bold payouts that preceded the subprime crisis. Some big banks like

JPMorgan Chase

(JPM) - Get Report

and

Goldman Sachs

(GS) - Get Report

have already begun executing on repurchase programs, but none have raised dividends on common stock. JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon said the bank may begin restoring payouts by the first quarter, while Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan expects to restore payouts to a "reasonable" level before 2012.

>>>Read More: Bank of America Mulls Dividend Hike

>>>Read More: Bank Dividends May See Regulatory Stall

-- Written by Lauren Tara LaCapra in New York

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