Higher Dividend Taxes Could Lead to More Share Buybacks

Thursday, 29 Nov 2012 12:04 PM

By Dan Weil

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An increase in dividend taxes, which might well occur next year, could lead to an increase in corporate stock buybacks, experts say.

President Barack Obama wants a 39.6 percent maximum dividend tax rate, up from 15 percent currently. While the rise may be smaller, some kind of increase is likely.

If the capital gains tax stands below the dividend tax rate — Obama has proposed a top capital gains rate of 23.8 percent — companies might shift their emphasis to share repurchases from dividends.

Editor's Note: How You Lost $85,000 During the Last Decade. See the Numbers.

The idea is that repurchases would increase a company’s stock price, and the resulting capital gains available to investors would be taxed at a lower rate than dividends would be.

“Dividends were the big thing,” Peter Andersen, a portfolio manager at Congress Asset Management, told The New York Times. “I think we’ll stop seeing that popularity, and the new focus will be on stock buyback programs.”

To be sure, share repurchases don’t guarantee a stock will rise. Most of the companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500 that executed buybacks from 2004 to 2011 haven’t boosted their share price much as a result, according to Credit Suisse data cited by The Times.

Share buybacks often seem to benefit corporate executives more than shareholders.

“Managers get compensated usually on earnings per share,” venture capitalist Peter Cohan told NPR.

“If you reduce the number of shares by buying back stocks, you end boosting the earnings per share, and that helps managers make their bonuses.”

Editor's Note: How You Lost $85,000 During the Last Decade. See the Numbers.

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