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Cash In on the Special Dividend Craze


NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Adam Smith was wrong.

In his classic The Wealth of Nations, available free from Penn State , Smith predicted that capitalism's winners would reach a point of satiation, that rather than continue to hoard their wealth they would spread it around, bending capitalism toward the general welfare.

Smith never met Bill Frist of the Hospital Corporation of America (HCA)-controlling Frist family. Or Las Vegas Sands (LVS) CEO Sheldon Adelson. Or Oracle (ORCL) CEO Larry Ellison. Or dozens of other extremely-rich people who, appalled that taxes on dividends, currently at the 15% capital gains rate, would rise in January to the rates on ordinary income, as high as 39.6%, with a special 3.8% tax on investment income on top to pay for health reform, are cashing out early, as our Jonathan Heller reported Tuesday.

The folks at iStockAnalyst say total special dividends are up 400% this year , thanks to scheduled changes in the tax law.

If Frist and Adelson and Ellison had been really clever they might have had the good sense of George Steinbrenner, who died in 2010, when the estate tax was at zero, before it was reimposed, as The Los Angeles Times reported at the time.

You can still get in on this action. While many special dividends have already been paid, or their record dates passed, I've compiled a small collection of deals from press releases, ordered by record date:

  • Las Vegas Sands (LVS), $2.75/share to shareholders of record December 6.
  • Sturm Ruger (RGR), $4.50/share to shareholders of record December 7.
  • Heartland Express (HTLD), $1/share to shareholders of record December 7.
  • Costco (COST), $7/share to shareholders of record December 10.
  • Lancaster Colony (LANC), $5/share to shareholders of record December 10.
  • Brown Forman (BF.B), $4/share to shareholders of record December 12.
  • Electro-Scientific Industries (ESIO), $2/share to shareholders of record December 13.
  • Cato (CATO), $1/share to shareholders of record December 14.
  • Dish Network (DISH), $1/share to shareholders of record December 14.
  • Pet-Med Express (PETS), $1/share to shareholders of record December 14.

This is just what I found poking through news releases on Google for a few hours. Maybe you can find others. Please leave them in the comments, and thank you.

This doesn't count companies like Oracle and Wal-Mart (WMT) who are paying next year's dividends this month in order to avoid the tax bite. These are just companies pushing out special dividends, dividends on top of their regular pay-outs, in order to keep money in insiders' pockets and away from Uncle Barack.

And some of these deals are truly extraordinary -- Costco and Hospital Corporation of America (HCA) are both borrowing money to make these payouts, HCA for the second time this year. (They expect to put another $2/share in stockholders' pockets, mainly private equity folks and the founding Frist family, before December 31, but haven't announced a record date yet.)

I find this funny. The "fiscal cliff" talks are still going on, and I really don't expect that, in the end, taxes on dividends are suddenly going to triple. If you're like me and keep your stocks in an IRA, or you're not a multimillionaire, this is just a windfall, a little stimulus for your yuletide stocking.

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