NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- In another signal of its comeback, Ford Motor reinstated its dividend Thursday, its first payout to common shareholders in five years.
Ford, (Fortune 500) the only major U.S. automaker to avoid a federal bailout and bankruptcy reorganization in 2009, has been the most profitable of the U.S. Big Three for several years. But it held off on the payments until now as it tried to address its balance sheet.,
The company's debt is still considered to be junk bonds by the rating agencies, despite recent improvement.
Ford will pay 5 cents a share to shareholders of record of its Class B and common stock on Jan. 31, 2012. Payments will be made in March. Ford last paid a dividend in 2006.
"We have made tremendous progress in reducing debt and generating consistent positive earnings and cash flow," said Bill Ford, the company's executive chairman, in a statement. "We are pleased to reinstate a quarterly dividend, as it is an important sign of our progress in building a profitably growing company and our confidence in the future."
Ford will become the only U.S. automaker paying a dividend. GM (Fortune 500) has yet to pay one since its initial public offering a year ago. Shares of Chrysler Group are still privately held, split between Italian automaker Fiat and a union-controlled trust fund for retirees' health care expenses.,
Ford earned net income of $1.6 billion in the third quarter and $6.6 billion so far in 2011. But the lack of dividend, coupled with uncertainty about the strength of the U.S. economic recovery, has worked against Ford shares, which are down 35% year to date.
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