* Payouts on course for record real term total in 2012
* Firms baulk at capital projects, dealmaking
* Q3 results less distorted by special payments
By Alistair Smout
LONDON, Oct 22 (Reuters) - UK firms handed out record dividends in the last quarter and are on track for annual all-time high payouts as they look to keep investors sweet in the face of faltering earnings growth, Capita Registrars said.
The third-quarter payout of 23.3 billion pounds ($37.59 billion), up 10.2 percent year-on-year, was the largest ever in nominal terms. In real terms, it was the highest since 2008.
"The volume of cash being distributed by UK companies is unprecedented," said Charles Cryer, Chief Executive of Capita Shareholder Services.
"Given the lack of high yielding alternatives, investors can be hugely relieved that equities are providing a decent income," he said, while acknowledging dividends could not continue to grow rapidly against the slower global economic backdrop.
Dividends of 64.6 billion pounds so far this year also represent a record and are already ahead of annual payouts in 2007, 2009 and 2010.
The estimated 78.6 billion pound payout for the whole of 2012 would be a record, even accounting for inflation.
The payouts come amid weak economic growth in developed markets and slowing growth elsewhere and illustrate a reluctance among firms to invest in big capital projects or acquisitions.
Those firms more exposed to the economic cycle, so-called cyclicals, saw dividends grow three times as fast as more defensive sectors, the report showed, led by basic industrials with a 172-percent increase year-on-year.
Only the technology sector, down 15 percent, posted a fall.
The third-quarter growth rate was the slowest since BP cancelled its payout in the last quarter of 2010 but was the seventh consecutive quarter of payout rises.
Payouts in the third quarter were less distorted by special dividends than earlier in the year, with one-offs accounting for only 432 million pounds, the report said.
Special dividends have totalled 6.4 billion pounds for the year so far, 800 million pounds more than the combined totals of 2008-2010 inclusive, and well over double the amount paid out in the first three quarters of 2011, which was already a record.