The race is on: The 15% tax on dividends ends December 31. Unless Congress acts, dividends will be taxed as ordinary income starting in 2013. That leaves precious little time for cash-rich companies to reward their shareholders with special dividends.
Back in January, I selected seven companies likely to give large special dividends this year. To get on the list, a company had to fill two key criteria: Insiders had to hold a high share percentage and the company had to have given a special dividend in 2010, the last time the dividend tax treatment was scheduled to end. The original list - Armstrong World (AWI), Buckle (BKE), Limited Brands (LTD), MTOX Scientific (MTOX), Stamps.com (STMP), Werner Enterprises (WERN), and Wynn Resorts (WYNN) - is quickly getting shorter.
So far, Armstrong and Limited Brands have handed investors sizable special dividends. MTOX Scientific didn't get a chance to pay a special dividend - it got taken out by Lab Corporation of America at a hefty premium.
Wynn Resorts just validated my thesis. The company last week announced a $7.50 special dividend and doubled its regular dividend to $1.00.
That leaves Buckle, Stamps.com and Werner Enterprises yet to announce a special dividend.
Werner has given a special dividend four out of the last four years, always in November. Last year, Werner only gave investors a special dividend of $0.50 but, in 2010, the company was much more generous, mailing out a one-time dividend of $1.60. I anticipate Werner's special this year will be on the large side to take advantage of the expiring dividend tax treatment.
Stamps.com has only had one special dividend in the past. In 2010, Stamps.com gave shareholders a $2.00 special dividend. The company has $52 million in cash, enough for another $2 special, leaving it a $20 million cash position - the same amount left over after it presented its last special dividend. My bet - Stamps.com mails a $2 special dividend to investors this year.
The Buckle has rewarded shareholders with a special dividend in each of the last 4 years. Insiders own over 35% of the company. It's in their interests to announce a large one-time payment before the tax code changes. The Buckle has amassed $197 million in cash and short-term investments or $4.10 a share. The company is expected to earn another $40 million, or $0.83 a share, for the upcoming quarter. With no debt and a small $30 to $34 million capex, this retailer has plenty of money available for a special dividend.
I predict the Buckle announces a $2.50 to $3.50 special dividend in addition to its regular $0.20 dividend at its next board meeting in November.
Sixty days and counting until the end of the year. Only three companies are left in my list. By year's end, it's a good bet every one of them will announce a special dividend.
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