It has been on Aflac’s radar for months, with the firm’s Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Dan Amos even telling shareholders last May that the possibility exists, but only under certain conditions.
On Tuesday, it happened. The board of directors of the supplemental health and life insurance company, headquartered on Wynnton Road in Columbus, declared that the firm will be splitting shares of its common stock. It will be only the ninth time since Aflac shares began trading on the New York Stock Exchange in 1974 that a split has taken place and the first time in 17 years.
The company, famed for its wily and humorous Aflac duck and the accompanying ad campaign, said the two-for-one stock split will be in the form of a 100 percent stock dividend payable on March 16 to those owning shares as of March 2.
Aflac shares closed up 94 cents apiece at $86.07 in trading Tuesday on New York Stock Exchange. Word of the stock split was released after the close of the markets. The company’s shares have ranged from a low of $70.34 to a high of $91.73 over the past year, which includes the stock market meltdown a week ago.
“I am pleased with the board’s action to split Aflac Incorporated’s stock,” Amos said in a statement. “As you’ll recall, this follows a year of strong share price performance and is on top of our announcement of the board’s action to approve an increase in the first quarter cash dividend of 15.6 percent. ... This split enhances the liquidity of our shares, which is in addition to our efforts to increase shareholder value.”
At Aflac’s annual meeting of shareholders last May at the Columbus Museum, Amos mentioned jokingly to those in attendance that he had gotten their message that a stock split was on their minds. He said that shares would have to hold in the range of $75 or higher for at least six months before the board would consider cutting them in half, which has now occurred.
Once the split occurs on March 16, shares will be cut in half beginning on the following Monday, March 19. At half the price of Tuesday’s close, shares would cost just over $43 apiece and stockholders would own twice as many shares as they held the previous Friday.
Of course, it may be difficult for some to remember the last time Aflac’s stock did split. It occurred in 2001, when the adjusted price after the split was $26.95 per share. That also was the year that George W. Bush began his first term as president, with terrorists attacking the U.S. on Sept. 11 and bringing down the World Trade Center, which led to America’s invasion of Afghanistan in the “War on Terror.” The free encyclopedia Wikipedia made its debut online as well, while Apple launched the iPod and gasoline averaged just under $1.50 a gallon.
And, as Amos occasionally relates to the public, purchasing Aflac stock and hanging on to it through the years has been a bonanza for some. Early investors who bought shares, then held onto them — riding the dividends and stock splits through the decades — would now have nearly 2 million shares valued at nine figures, meaning considerably above $100 million. The yearly cash dividend of a few million dollars would be like icing on the cake.