Paying record dividends in the Corona crisis is at best instinctless – and at worst an expression of a dangerous corporate culture.
Fresenius shareholders are in for a windfall: After the annual general meeting on May 21, the company plans to distribute a record dividend. At the same time, however, according to a report in DIE ZEIT, CEO Stephan Sturm recently announced staff cuts at the hospital subsidiary Helios “in order to secure profitability”.
In addition, the healthcare group has profited considerably from government support in the Corona pandemic: Helios had raked in lavish “free holding lump sums” that the federal government had passed so that clinics would provide intensive care beds. According to ZEIT, the total aid amounted to “about 740 million euros”. That is more than any other competitor.
In this situation, pampering shareholders with a record dividend is at best instinctless – and at worst an expression of a corporate culture that overweights shareholder interests.
Does government money secure hedge fund returns?
Fresenius is a blatant case, but not an isolated one: a number of companies are paying out lavish dividends this year, even though they owe their profits primarily to massive backing from the “state” as a stakeholder (think, for example, of the short-time working allowance). The 30 Dax companies alone are making investors happy with more than 34 billion euros. That is only eleven percent less than in the pre-Corona year 2019.
According to a Handelsblatt calculation, this corresponds to about 85 percent of the total net profit. So no one need be surprised by the accusation that money from tax and social security funds ultimately benefits mainly hedge funds and professional investors.
The Siemens model is more sympathetic: the Munich-based company has lowered its dividend (for only the third time in the post-war period). At the same time, they are spending more than ever on training to get employees fit for the digital age. This is good for the company, but also good for society – and thus a prime example of “stakeholder value”, which should be at the heart of corporate strategies after state aid.