One Percent Find a Way to Stimulate Themselves

Agenda-Setting Financial Insight.
Dec. 6 2012 10:25 AM

One Percent Find a Way to Stimulate Themselves

153125352
Oracle CEO Larry Ellison

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The wealthy in America are creating their own personal stimulus. Special dividends are coming thick and fast. Oracle’s Larry Ellison and the Walton family of Wal-Mart Stores are among the noteworthy beneficiaries. Payouts have potentially saved recipients billions in taxes so far. Uncle Sam might have put that to work fixing infrastructure.

So far this quarter, U.S. companies have pledged more than $21 billion in one-off dividends – and that’s not including early payment of regular ones. Shareholders receiving them will be able to book the gains at the 15 percent tax rate currently in place rather than the worst-case 39.6 percent scheduled to go into effect next year if President Barack Obama and Congress don’t agree on an alternative rate.

Advertisement

Enterprises with big family shareholdings feature prominently in the special dividend ranks. Individual owners may be particularly attuned to the risk of higher taxes. Take Ellison. Oracle is paying three quarters’ worth of next year’s dividends this month. The boss could reap up to $50 million more after tax from the payouts, depending where tax rates actually end up. He would have no trouble spending it – he recently bought a Hawaiian island for 10 times that amount, according to reported estimates.

Walton family members, who hold a combined 51 percent stake of giant retailer Wal-Mart, could save as much as $166 million with the shift of a single quarterly payment from January to this month. Private equity firm KKR, which holds a 20 percent stake in HCA, could net $44 million in tax savings from the hospital operator’s one-time payout this month.

If this quarter’s special dividends alone were instead paid out next year with the highest feasible tax rates in force, the U.S. government’s coffers would be at least $5 billion heavier in a few months’ time. That’s already about one-tenth of what Obama wants earmarked for spending on much needed infrastructure upgrades across the United States.

Well spent, that seems of greater long-term national benefit than anything billionaire shareholders are likely to do with their cash. Of course, as long as they can afford it, companies are doing all shareholders a legitimate favor by paying cash out before a tax rise. And Washington can blame its own dysfunction for concern that tax rates might rise so sharply. But despite calls from corporate America for the government to right its finances, it seems some of the richest are still happy first to take care of their own pocketbooks.

TODAY IN SLATE

Frame Game

Hard Knocks

I was hit by a teacher in an East Texas public school. It taught me nothing.

What Hillary Clinton’s Iowa Remarks Reveal About Her 2016 Fears

After This Merger, One Company Could Control One-Third of the Planet's Beer Sales

John Oliver Pleads for Scotland to Stay With the U.K.

If You’re Outraged by the NFL, Follow This Satirical Blowhard on Twitter

Jurisprudence

Don’t Expect Adrian Peterson to Go to Prison

In much of America, beating your kids is perfectly legal. 

The Juice

Ford’s Big Gamble

It’s completely transforming America’s best-selling vehicle.

I Tried to Write an Honest Profile of One of Bollywood’s Biggest Stars. It Didn’t Go Well.

Here’s Why College Women Don’t Take Rape Allegations to the Police

The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 1:51 PM Here’s Why College Women Don’t Take Rape Allegations to the Police
  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 15 2014 8:56 PM The Benghazi Whistleblower Who Might Have Revealed a Massive Scandal on his Poetry Blog
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 15 2014 7:27 PM Could IUDs Be the Next Great Weapon in the Battle Against Poverty?
  Life
Outward
Sept. 15 2014 4:38 PM What Is Straight Ice Cream?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Sept. 15 2014 11:38 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 4  A spoiler-filled discussion of "Listen."
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 15 2014 8:58 PM Lorde Does an Excellent Cover of Kanye West’s “Flashing Lights”
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 15 2014 4:49 PM Cheetah Robot Is Now Wireless and Gallivanting on MIT’s Campus
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 15 2014 11:00 AM The Comet and the Cosmic Beehive
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.