Banks are caught in a tug of war over dividends and share repurchases. They are being pulled in one direction by some regulators and industry critics who argue equity requirements remain far too lax, in the other by shareholders eager to get back some of their “trapped capital.”

The latter team gained ground after this winter’s stress tests cleared most large banks to pay out some capital. Still, while dividends are climbing, they remain well below levels posted in the middle of the last decade. And repurchases have played a small role in distributions to stockholders since the financial meltdown. (See the following graphic. Interactive controls are described in the captions. Text continues below.)

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