Many companies these days seem to be declaring special year-end dividends. And the list of businesses doing so is growing like wildfire.
Ahead of an expected tax increase in 2013, public companies are doling out early holiday gifts to their shareholders. The current 15 percent tax rate on dividends could increase to more than 43 percent next year for top wage earners, making special dividends especially attractive to companies and their shareholders.
Among the latest on the dividend bandwagon are Disney, which increased its usual year-end dividend by 25 percent, Las Vegas Sands Corp., which nearly doubled its usual year-end dividend, and Costco Wholesale Corp., which declared a $3 billion payout to shareholders.
According to Bloomberg, more than 70 companies in the Russell 3000 stock index have announced a one-time cash payment to shareholders since September. This is up from only 15 businesses in the prior-year quarter. More than a dozen of the 70 companies the wire service highlighted pegged their actions to pending tax increases, but it’s a good bet that many of the others had similar reasoning. Investor’s Business Daily reported that as of November 28, 173 companies had announced special dividends in the month of November. More payouts are expected to occur as we inch closer to the end of 2012.
And it’s not just new dividends that are being declared. Wal-Mart moved the payment of its fourth-quarter dividend from January 2 to December 27, while H.J. Heinz Co. accelerated its payment as well.
Some believe these dividend payments could boost holiday retail sales. Jason Ader, head of Ader Investment Management and a former Wall Street analyst, believes that dividend payments arriving prior to Christmas “may very well help Christmas sales, along with having a multiplier effect in terms of credit and borrowing.”
At least one investor, however, does not agree with the recent spate of announcements. During a recent interview with NPR, Jim Paulsen of Wells Capital Management said that companies should be looking for ways to increase their growth prospects rather than “handing out gifts to shareholders.”
As companies continue to jump on the proverbial bandwagon and contemplate whether to declare a special dividend, it’s important to remember that each organization’s circumstances are different, and not everyone may benefit from taking the leap.
In the interim, maybe we all can take a lesson from Wile E. Coyote.
— Laurie Berman, email@example.com