Companies act to beat taxman: Budget prompts flood of early dividends

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THE slow trickle of companies bringing forward dividend payment dates to beat tax changes made in the Budget is turning into a flood.

More than a dozen yesterday said payments would now be made before 6 April, the day when tax credits will be cut from 25 to 20 per cent.

The tightest change to the dividend schedule is by Colefax and Fowler, the furnishing fabrics company, which is bringing the payment of its 0.5p interim forward by 48 hours to 5 April.

In a separate move, RTZ, the mining group, proposes to soak up surplus Advance Corporation Tax via an 'enhanced scrip dividend'.

BAT, the tobacco company, announced an identical scheme on Monday. Both schemes are being handled by Barclays de Zoete Wedd Securities.

RTZ said shareholders would be offered the chance to receive ordinary shares 'with a value 50 per cent in excess' of the previously recommended final dividend of 13.5p net.

In essence, the proposal will allow shareholders to receive pounds 150 of ordinary shares for every pounds 100 of cash dividend they would normally receive.

Sir Derek Birkin, chairman of RTZ, said: 'It would increase 1993 earnings per share by up to 3p and a reduction in gearing by up to 7 percentage points.'

Full details will be sent out with the company's annual report on 7 April.

Companies that moved yesterday to beat the Budget included Matthew Clark, Boots, Candover, Reed International, Helical Bar, Elsevier, Rathbone Bros, Reuter, Laird, PowerGen and Capital Radio.

Most have to make a technical change, by paying a second interim dividend in lieu of a final. Directors can declare interims, but only recommend finals, which shareholders then have to vote on at an annual meeting.

Boots, the pharmaceutical and retailing group, will pay a second interim of 8.8p. 'The total additional benefit to shareholders from the timing of this payment amounts to some pounds 6m,' the company said.

Reuters, the media company, is bringing forward the payment of its 15.9p payment by a full month to 5 April. Interest lost on the total pounds 67.3m cost of the dividend was 'not material', the company said.