Disney wins biz’s payoff series

Mouse gives shareholders bigger dividend

Many companies have initiated or increased dividends since the 15% dividend tax rate became law in 2003. At the end of 2002, 351 stocks in the S&P 500 paid dividends. Now, 402 do.

Among S&P 500 companies in the entertainment industry, the percentage of payers has remained about the same. But because of corporate restructuring or earnings problems, most didn’t pay a dividend at all in 2003.

CBS Corp. and Viacom were parts of the old Viacom until the 2006 split. CBS started paying a dividend immediately, but currently pays shareholders 46% less than it did six years ago. Viacom waited until 2010 to pay and has increased its dividend 144% in two years.

Cablers have long argued that they needed their cash for system build-outs. But once most construction was completed, dividends began. Cablevision Systems started in 2008, and has since boosted its dividend 50%. Comcast Corp., which suspended a token dividend in 1999, resumed paying at a much higher rate in 2008. Since then, its dividends have increased by 159%.

Once it recovered from its AOL merger, Time Warner resumed payments in 2005. Its 247% increase since then is best in show.

Only two major showbiz companies, News Corp. and Walt Disney, have paid dividends steadily since 2003. The house of Murdoch, which pays twice a year, boosted dividends a below-average 79%. The Mouse, which opens its pockets annually, now gives shareholders 186% more than in 2003.

Increases are likely to slow if taxes on dividends rise next year.