Costco to pay $7 special dividend on December 18


Retailer Costco Wholesale Corp on Wednesday said it will pay a special dividend worth some $3.0 billion to investors, sending cash to its shareholders ahead of a likely increase in the dividend tax.

The retailer also posted monthly same-store sales that beat analysts' expectations.

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Shares of Costco, which charges a membership fee to let people shop at its stores for deals on everything from paper towels to diamond rings, rose 5.4 percent, or $5.10, to $101.68 in early trading.

Several companies have declared one-time cash dividends in recent days ahead of a likely increase in the dividend tax rate due to the so-called "fiscal cliff" - a combination of tax increases and spending cuts due to kick in at the beginning of next year if Congress and the White House cannot reach an agreement on a new deficit cutting plan.

Among those, spirits company Brown-Forman Corp declared a $4-a-share special dividend on Tuesday and casino developer Las Vegas Sands, whose chairman is billionaire Republican donor Sheldon Adelson, announced a special dividend of $2.75 a share on Monday.

"We expect many cash-rich, stable operating companies to follow this trend, along with companies that have high insider ownership," Janney Capital Markets analyst David Strasser said.

Costco had cash and short-term investments of about $4.8 billion on September 2, and the access to credit markets to make such a large payout.

"Our strong balance sheet and favorable access to the credit markets allow us to provide shareholders with this dividend," Chief Financial Officer Richard Galanti said in a statement on Wednesday.

On November 19, Costco's bigger rival Wal-Mart Stores moved its planned dividend into late December from early January to help shareholders avoid the looming jump in the tax rate.

Costco's special dividend will be paid on December 18, with the record date set at December 10.

November sales at Costco stores open at least a year rose 6 percent, helped by higher gasoline prices and dollar weakness, the company said. That compared with a forecast for 5.4 percent, according to Thomson Reuters data.

Excluding the effects of fuel and currency, Costco posted a November same-store sales increase of 5 percent. Net sales rose 9 percent to $8.15 billion in the four weeks to November 25.

(Reporting by Sakthi Prasad and Brad Dorfman; Editing by Dan Lalor and Maureen Bavdek)