Investors and businesses are making strategic moves to preemptively protect themselves against tax increases proposed by Barack Obama and Democrats or the very real possibility that Washington futzes around so much we jump off the fiscal cliff, automatically raising taxes on just about everyone.
Businesses big and small, such as Leggett -and-Platt, Walmart, Hot Topic Inc and The Buckle Inc have all decided to move move its planned dividend into late December from early January to help shareholders avoid a looming jump in the tax rate due to the so-called fiscal cliff.
The shift by the world's largest retailer will give shareholders, including the family of founder Sam Walton, roughly $1.34 billion in total dividend payments taxed at the current rate.
Fiscal years for retailers typically end in late January, so their dividend payments often are timed differently from those of other types of companies. Exxon Mobil Corp, for instance, had already planned for payouts in December.
"There are complex fiscal and federal tax rate issues that may not be resolved in the next few weeks, despite the ongoing good faith negotiations between the administration and Congress to resolve details related to the fiscal cliff," Wal-Mart said in a statement.
"In light of this uncertainty, the board determined that moving our dividend payment up by a few days to 2012 was in the best interests of our shareholders."
Teen apparel chains Hot Topic Inc and The Buckle Inc already said they would move dividends typically paid in January into December to allow shareholders to benefit from the lower tax rate set to expire this year.
Adding to what has become a clamor for the White House and legislators on Capitol Hill to compromise, the Fitch ratings agency said on Monday that the "fiscal cliff" could trigger a recession and push the unemployment rate above 10 percent.
The there are the business owners and investors that are taking actions now meant to shield themselves from the Obama tax hikes.
Business owners and investors are rapidly maneuvering to shield themselves from the prospect of higher taxes next year, a strategy that is sending ripples across Wall Street and broad areas of the economy.
Take Steve Wynn, the casino magnate, who has been a vocal critic of higher tax rates. He and his fellow shareholders in Wynn Resorts, the company announced, will collect a special dividend of $750 million on Tuesday, a payout timed to take advantage of current rates. Experts estimated that taking the payout this year instead of next could save Mr. Wynn, who owns a sizable stake in the company, more than $20 million.For the wealthy like Mr. Wynn, the overriding goal is to record as much of their future income this year as they can. This includes moves as diverse as sales of businesses, one-time dividends and the sale of stocks that have been big winners.“In my 30 years in practice, I’ve never seen such a flood of desire and action to transfer a business and cash out,” said Kenneth K. Bezozo, a partner in New York with the law firm Haynes and Boone. “We’re seeing a watershed event.”Whether small business owners or individuals saving for retirement, investors are being urged by their advisers to reconsider their holdings. Along the way, many are shedding the very investments that have been the most popular over the last year, contributing to recent sell-offs in formerly high-flying shares like Apple and Amazon.
The top rate on dividends, for example, could climb to 39.6 percent from 15 percent if no action is taken. Capital gains taxes, which now top out at 15 percent, could rise above 20 percent, many financial advisers say. Most investment income will also be subject to a 3.8 percent charge to help pay for President Obama’s health care law.Stocks that pay big dividends have been popular in recent years among investors eager for an alternative to the meager returns on bank savings accounts and Treasury securities. Since October, though, the two sectors that provide the most generous dividend payments — utilities and telecommunication stocks — have been among the worst performers, hurt also in part by the devastation of Hurricane Sandy on the East Coast. Utility companies in the S.& P. 500 have fallen 9.4 percent from their highs in October. Telecommunication stocks in the index have dropped 11.3 percent from theirs, compared with the broader index’s 6.8 percent decline from its recent high.John Moorin, the founder of a medical equipment company near Indianapolis, said he sold about $650,000 in dividend-paying stocks like McDonald’s and Coca-Cola a few days after the election, worried about the potential increase in taxes.“I love these companies, but I’m so scared that now all of the sudden I’m going to get taxed at such a rate with them that they won’t be worth anything,” Mr. Moorin said.
Liberals will scream "Greed!" but these investors and business owners have every right to protect themselves, their investors and stockholders and their assets.
That is exactly what they are doing.