U.S. Markets open in 1 hr 28 mins

Lazard to issue special dividend, move up payout

NEW YORK (AP) -- Lazard will pay a special dividend this month and accelerate payment of its next regular quarterly dividend, moves that could protect shareholders from potentially having to pay higher taxes on dividend income starting in January.

The investment bank announced its plans after markets closed on Tuesday, saying the actions "reflect Lazard's ongoing commitment to return capital to stockholders through dividends and share repurchases."

New York's Lazard Ltd. said its board authorized a special dividend of 20 cents per share on its Class A common stock, payable on Dec. 27 to shareholders of record as of Dec. 21.

That payment is in addition to Lazard's next quarterly dividend of 20 cents per share, which would ordinarily be paid in February. But the board authorized moving up the payment and record dates for that payout to Dec. 27 and Dec. 21, respectively.

Shares of Lazard fell 7 cents to $30.71 in midday trading.

With dividend taxes set to rise starting next month, Lazard joins a growing number of companies moving up regular payouts or issuing special end-of year dividends.

Since 2003 investors have paid a maximum 15 percent on dividend income. That historically low rate will expire in January unless Congress and President Barack Obama reach a compromise on taxes and government spending, and the rate could increase as part of any deal that's reached. As it stands, dividends will be taxed as ordinary income in 2013, the same as wages, so rates will go up depending on which income bracket a taxpayer is in. For the highest earners, the dividend rate would jump to 43.4 percent.