Permanent fund earns enough for dividend

Fund finished the year with a gain of about 4 percent on investments

Posted: Wednesday, July 02, 2003

ANCHORAGE - It will be smaller, but it will be there.

State officials say the spring stock market rally lasted long enough to preserve a mainstay of the state's economy and many residents' pocketbooks - Alaska Permanent Fund dividends.

Earlier this year, the dividend was in doubt because of Wall Street's long losing streak. But speaking after the stock market closed Monday, the day the dollars had to be counted, fund officials said the oil-wealth savings account earned enough to pay a dividend.

The amount will not be announced until Sept. 24. Analysts project the checks will be about $1,100, down from the $1,541 paid last year but more than 14 of the 21 dividends paid out since 1982.

The reason for the decline has to do with the way the dividend is calculated. The size of the payment is based on a five-year average of permanent fund profits on stock, bond and real-estate investments. This year, hugely profitable 1998 will be replaced with the mediocre 12-month period that ended Monday, crimping the profit average.

Fund officials figure that's much better than what Alaskans would have gotten had the stock market not rallied.

"Everybody's smiling," said Bob Storer, the fund's executive director.

Storer and other fund managers sweated through months of anxiety about whether a long bear market that began in March 2000 would keep going right through Monday, the last day of the state fiscal year. If fund profits are low or nonexistent on the last day of June, state officials by law cannot dip into the massive fund principal to pay dividends.

On Monday, total fund value stood at $25 billion.

Storer said the fund probably finished the year with a gain of 4 percent to 4.5 percent on investments. That would leave the fund with well more than the roughly $690 million needed to pay dividends, he said.

It's the first winning year for the fund in three years. The fund ended last year down about 2.2 percent. The loss was 3.3 percent in 2001.

"After three years of a bear market, I'm pleased that we've hopefully turned the corner and we've had a positive return for this fiscal year," Storer said.

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