Dividends and taxation

President Obama wants to tax dividends at ordinary income rates.  These results, from Marcus and Martin Jacob, should not come as a huge surprise:

We compile a comprehensive international dividend and capital gains tax data set to study tax explanations of corporate payouts for a panel of 6,416 firms from 25 countries for 1990-2008. We find robust evidence that the tax penalty on dividends versus capital gains is statistically significant and negatively related to firms’ propensity to pay dividends, initiate such payments, and the amount of dividends paid. Our analysis further reveals that an increase in the dividend tax penalty raises firms’ likelihood to repurchase shares, initiate such repurchases, and the amount of shares repurchased. This is strong confirming evidence that when listed industrial firms globally design their payout policies, they take into careful consideration the relative tax implications of their payout choices.

Here are some Finnish results:

Using register-based panel data covering all Finnish firms in 1999-2004, we examine how corporations anticipated the 2005 dividend tax increase via changes in their dividend and investment policies. The Finnish capital and corporate income tax reform of 2005 creates a useful opportunity to measure this behaviour, since it involves exogenous variation in the tax treatment of different types of firms. The estimation results reveal that those firms that anticipated a dividend tax hike increased their dividend payouts by 10-50 per cent. This increase was not accompanied by a reduction in investment activities, but rather was associated with increased indebtedness in non-listed firms. The results also suggest that the timing of dividend distributions probably offsets much of the potential for increased dividend tax revenue following the reform.

Here are more results from Finland.  In the UK dividend tax increase of 1997 it seems pension funds were the marginal investor and they bore much of the burden from that particular reform.


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