After all, any dividend paid out by December 31 will benefit from the current, low, 15% tax rate on qualified dividends. After the dawning of 2013, however, the maximum tax rate on dividends may increase to as high as 43.4% for top income earners.
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Of course that would only happen if Congress decided, with the president's approval, to begin taxing dividends at ordinary income tax rates and applies a 3.8% surtax to pay for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. A compromise may be reached before midnight on December 31, but no one seems certain one way or another.
So who will be the next big-time, special-dividend donor that hasn't already broken the good news? The first likely suspect may be Apple (AAPL - Get Report). Talk about a strong balance sheet! AAPL can boast a $29 billion cache in total cash and absolutely no debt. They can afford to be generous with plenty left over.Another likely possibility would be ConocoPhillips (COP - Get Report) which recently announced plans to sell its 8.4% interest in the Kashagan oil project in the Caspian Sea. The proceeds from the sale would be close to $5 billion and would be a big step in COP's goal to divest itself of billions of dollars of assets this year and next. COP is in the process of a three-year repositioning, "aimed at improving its balance sheet and focusing on more profitable and less risky unconventional fields in North America," according to a Wall Street Journal article on November 27. "Its plan includes $15 to $20 billion in asset disposals, large-scale share buybacks