At first glance, Las Vegas Sands' (NYSE:LVS) new special dividend seems like an investor's jackpot. On top of its quarterly dividend of $0.25, the company will be issuing an additional $2.75 a share. The market has responded with the mania of a euphoric gambler, and the stock price jumped 6% following Monday's news. It's all too easy to get caught up in this excitement, but let's take a closer look at the possible reasons for the new dividend. This will prove whether it's truly good fortune for investors, or just another instance where the house wins.
Who's the real big winner here?
Issuing a dividend is a common tactic for cementing loyalty with existing shareholders while winning over potential new ones. In the case of a special dividend, a company has already proven its stability, and might be looking to increase investor goodwill even further with a one-time bump in payouts.
That all sounds promising so far, but in the case of Las Vegas Sands, 52% of its shares are owned by one person: its chairman, Sheldon G. Adelson. Already one of the wealthiest men in the world, Adelson stands to gain $1.2 billion from the new dividend, as fellow Fool contributor Travis Hoium also noted. With this fact in mind, it's hard to believe the announcement comes from a desire for corporate benevolence. This is a casino we're talking about, after all.
Taxing gold coins
Yes, its owner will make a boatload of money off this new deal. But there may be a better reason Las Vegas Sands couldn't wait to issue its special dividend: the fiscal cliff. Taxes on dividends could triple in 2013 as a result, and this has driven analysts and companies to classic Wall Street sensationalism. Las Vegas Sands is only the latest in a string of companies to issue special dividends before the cliff approaches (Costco and Brown-Formanbeing two of the biggest examples), in an effort to squeeze out as much as they can to shareholders before potential taxing begins.
Whether or not these severe taxes go into effect, the Sands is still an intriguing dividend stock to watch. The company only began paying dividends in March, and its current payout ratio is 58%. This ratio is much larger for Las Vegas Sands than for some of its competitors (Wynn Resorts rings in at 38%), but it still suggests that the Sands' dividend has room for future upward momentum.
Las Vegas Sands' margins are also holding strong, even in a volatile industry. Net profit margin in particular has doubled from 8% to 16% between 2011 and 2012. Because of the company's strong financial performance, there seems little reason that its dividend shouldn't grow in the future.
Hold on, or cash out before it's too late?
This is one instance where Mr. Market's mania could be a benefit to the individual investor. The worst-case scenario is that dividend taxes will increase in 2013, making take-home shareholder payouts significantly smaller. In the best-case scenario, on the other hand, the fiscal cliff goes the same way as the Y2K virus, and investors in Las Vegas Sands will be able to take advantage of both a primo special dividend and a regular quarterly payout that is strong and likely to keep growing. Whether you're playing for risk or for keeps, it's hard to deny that Las Vegas Sands is a solid stock.
Caroline Bennett has no positions in the stocks mentioned above. The Motley Fool has no positions in the stocks mentioned above. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.