though, the two sectors that provide the most generous dividend
payments -- utilities and telecommunications stocks -- have been
among the worst performers (though part of the damage was done by
the storm known as Sandy on the East Coast). Utility companies in
the S.&P. 500 have fallen 9.4 percent from their highs in October.
Telecommunication stocks in the index have dropped 11.3 percent from
theirs, compared with the broader index's 6.8 percent decline from
its recent high.
John Moorin, the founder of a medical equipment company near Indianapolis, said he had sold about $650,000 in dividend-paying stocks like McDonald's and Coca-Cola a few days after the election, worried about the potential increase in taxes.
"I love these companies, but I'm so scared that now all of the sudden I'm going to get taxed at such a rate with them that they won't be worth anything," Mr. Moorin said.
Mr. Wynn has declared special dividends at the end of the year before -- most recently in 2011 -- but in a call with analysts last month, he hinted that higher taxes would cause him and other chief executives to rethink big payouts in future years.
In the meantime, he added, it was "very difficult to do long- range planning with a government that moves as much as this does on so many issues."
Leggett & Platt, a diversified manufacturer based in Carthage, Missouri, decided to move up payment of its fourth-quarter dividend to December from January so shareholders could take advantage of the lower rate.
"If we can help our shareholders avoid taxes and keep more of their dividends, we'll do it," said David M. DeSonier, senior vice president for corporate strategy and investor relations.
While negotiators are trying to find ways to raise more revenue for the long term, some experts expect a substantial bump in tax collections in the short term as investors take a multitude of steps now that they would have taken in future years. After the top tax rate on capital gains rose to 28 percent from 20 percent at the end of 1986, the U.S. government's receipts from such gains doubled to $52.9 billion in 1987, as sales surged at the end of the previous tax year.
The potential jump in tax rates has been telegraphed for months, but many investors say they did not respond sooner because they were waiting to see whether Mitt Romney would defeat the president and move forward with his commitment to keeping rates at current levels. Mr. Obama, since defeating Mr. Romney, has continued his call for an increase in marginal tax rates on the wealthy. A growing number of Republican leaders have conceded that some increase is likely.
Kristina Collins, a chiropractor in McLean, Virginia, said she and her husband planned to monitor the business income from their joint practice closely to avoid crossing the income threshold for higher taxes outlined by Mr. Obama on earnings above $200,000 for individuals and $250,000 for couples.
Dr. Collins said she felt torn by being near the cutoff line and disappointed that U.S. tax policy was providing a disincentive to keep expanding a business she founded in 1998.
"If we're really close and it's near the end-year, maybe we'll just close down for a while and go on vacation," she said.
Of the potential changes in the tax code set to take place Jan. 1, the scheduled increase in the tax rate on capital gains would hit a particularly broad range of investments.
Business owners, for instance, can lock in the current top rate of 15 percent on capital gains if they sell their company before the end of the year. The capital gains tax also applies to increases in the value of stocks and other securities, encouraging some investors to sell holdings that have done well. That is one of several factors cited in the recent plunge in the price of Apple shares. They have dropped 26 percent since mid-September after rising 73 percent earlier in the year.
The coming changes have not hurt all assets. Municipal bonds have become more attractive because they are exempt from most U.S. taxes, including the new surcharge related to Mr. Obama's health care law. Frank Fantozzi, a financial planner in Cleveland, is recommending that his wealthy clients increase their allocations to municipal bonds from about 30 percent to about 40 percent.
But the potential effect of the scheduled tax increases and government spending cuts has been mostly negative. Many market strategists have suggested trimming overall holdings of risky assets like stocks, and business executives are proceeding very cautiously.
Some business owners say they are holding off on hiring plans because they expect tax rates to rise. Dyke Messinger, chief executive of Power Curbers in Salisbury, North Carolina, said he would like to fill four slots at his company, which makes construction equipment, but would hire only three people because he anticipated that his tax bill would rise by $100,000.
"It's not a huge amount of money," Mr. Messinger said. "But it's enough money that you don't want to make a misstep."
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