15 special dividends ranked by size

Companies rushing to pass out money ahead of tax man

Shareholders of scores of public companies can expect to get some holiday bonuses this year, as many of these firms rush to issue special dividends before a potential 2013 tax hike linked to the fiscal cliff kicks in. The 15% tax rate on dividends will expire with the rest of the “Bush tax cuts” at the end of the year if a deal on the fiscal cliff is not reached, and perhaps even if one is. Rates on dividends may go as high as 39.6% in 2013. It seems that many companies would rather return money to shareholders than the Feds as some — Costco for one — actually are borrowing money to pay out special dividends.

The ex-dividend date represents the date the market discounts the price of the dividend on the stock. To qualify for dividends investors usually must own the stock prior to the ex-dividend date to be considered owners of record on the official closing date. Typically the stock will open lower on the ex-dividend date based on the  per-share size of the dividend.

The following 15 companies are doling out the highest total dividends, according to Markit data reported by the Wall Street Journal. There are 128 companies offering special dividends worth an approximate $14.6 billion, according to the WSJ, and their ranks continue to grow. Others, such as CME Group, have decided to move up other special dividends that normally would not have been disbursed until next year. The list is drawn from companies in the Russell 3000 but does not include companies that are moving up the date of regularly scheduled dividends.

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