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Estimate puts PFD at near last year's $1,305

Elizabeth Bluemink

The Permanent Fund dividend payment this fall could be very close to last year's $1,305.

The size of the payment for qualified Alaska residents will likely fall between $1,250 and $1,320, according to a Daily News estimate.

It's the first time in about 15 years that the size of the annual dividend hasn't changed by a lot.

The Daily News estimate is based in part on Friday's announcement that $858 million in investment profits from the state's oil-wealth savings account will be available for dividends this year. It also factors some assumptions, such as how many people will be eligible for the dividend this year.

The state will announce the actual size of this year's dividend in September.

The state plans to pay this year's dividend to more than 600,000 Alaskans on Oct. 7. The distribution of roughly $1 billion to Alaskans each fall juices the state's economy as people spend the money with retailers, remodeling companies, airlines, brokerage houses and even bankruptcy attorneys.

WILD UPS AND DOWNS

The Alaska Permanent Fund Corp. -- a state agency that invests part of the state's oil revenue in stocks, bonds, real estate and other assets -- determines how much to deposit for dividend checks by averaging the $34.7 billion fund's cash profits over the last five years.

A separate state entity, the Permanent Fund Division, handles the dividend applications and makes the payments. The application period closed March 31.

The division director, Debbie Bitney, agrees that the payment won't change significantly from last year's. "We don't expect a huge fluctuation," she said.

Over the past 15 years, the size of the dividend payment has fluctuated dramatically from year to year. In 2008, for example, the check amount ballooned by 25 percent, hitting a record $2,069. But last year, the amount deflated by 37 percent to $1,305, thanks to a soured stock market and global recession. That bad investment year will dampen the size of dividends until 2014, when it finally drops out of the five-year average of fund profits used to calculate dividends.

ROILING MARKETS

The Permanent Fund lost about $2.5 billion last year due to the economic meltdown. In contrast, this year -- the state fiscal year ending June 30 -- the fund earned a $1.5 billion profit, said Michael Burns, the corporation's chief executive.

"That is an indicator of how the markets have come back," he said.

However, in the coming fiscal year, "We're going to have a hard time getting a lot of growth," he said.

Burns believes that's because a lot of big companies are sitting on their cash instead of investing right now, waiting to see what happens in national elections this fall. "There's an enormous wait and see attitude," he said.

ELIGIBILITY PROBLEMS

Just because you are used to receiving a dividend doesn't mean you won't have a hiccup this year.

The division is still sorting through 50,000 eligibility cases -- a typical caseload for this time of year, according to Bitney.

Usually, 95 percent of the people who apply are deemed eligible, Bitney said.

The main criteria is that an applicant must have been an Alaska resident for the entire calendar year before the application deadline.

But Bitney warned that even regular applicants can have an unexpected problem with their eligibility.

She said applicants who haven't checked already their status on the division's website should go ahead and do that and call the division if their status is listed as "undetermined."

Find Elizabeth Bluemink online at adn.com/contact/ebluemink or call 257-4317.

Website: State of Alaska PFD Division
By ELIZABETH BLUEMINK
ebluemink@adn.com