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Martin Hutchinson has a reputation for being bearish at exactly the right time. Slate magazine singled him out - above even famed economist Nouriel Roubini - as the financier who most accurately predicted how bad the 2009 bear market would turn out to be. In June 2008 - at a time when the Dow was above 12,000, and most folks were calling for it to go higher - Martin predicted the index could nosedive all the way to 7,800 (it actually spun down to 6,600). Before grabbing recognition for his gutsy timing, Martin worked nearly 30 years as an investment banker, with extensive experience in both New York and London. He's served as a senior vice president and head of derivatives for Creditanstalt-Bankverein, director of the Spanish private firm Gestion Integral de Negocios, and advisor to the Korean conglomerate Sunkyong Corp. But it was Martin's work in Bulgaria, Croatia, and Macedonia that solidified his reputation as a true "hands-on" expert on the developing economies. As the U.S. Treasury advisor to Croatia, he helped the country establish its own T-bill program in the 1990s, launch its first government bond issue, and start a forward currency market. Martin is the author of several books. He also served as the business and economics editor at United Press International during the early 2000s, where he jumpstarted the financial-news operation of that historic wire service. He earned his undergraduate degree in mathematics from Cambridge University, and an MBA from Harvard University. He lives outside of Poughkeepsie, N.Y, with his wife, Anna. Martin is our Global Investing Specialist. He serves as editor of the Permanent Wealth Investor, where he focuses on "Alpha Bulldog" stocks that pay high, reliable dividends. In his newest advisory, the Merchant Banker Alert, Martin uncovers the fastest-growing companies in the fastest-growing economies and brings those ideas back home to you.
I wish I had a nickel for every scary story I read about dividend stocks and the fiscal cliff over the last four months.
I heard so many, I could probably take the rest of the year off.
Of course, a funny thing happened on the way to this great apocalypse: dividend stocks are not only alive and well, but stronger than ever.
As I wrote a few weeks ago, the Fiscal Cliff fears surrounding income stocks were completely overblown.
And now that a budget agreement has been reached and the tax treatment of dividends is locked in, all of this doom-and-gloom can now be finally put to rest.
With a deal in place, dividends will be taxed as favorably for investors as capital gains. For lower income folks, qualified dividends continue to be taxed at 15%.
It only changes for investors who have met the government's latest definition of "rich."
For those with incomes above $400,000 ($450,000 for a married couple) there is quite a substantial increase in the tax rate on qualified dividends. It rises from 15% to 23.8%, including the 3.8% investment income surcharge in the Obamacare legislation.
However, the capital gains tax in this bracket will rise by the same amount, while interest income will be taxed at 43.4% (39.6% income tax plus the 3.8% Obamacare surcharge.)
That means the relative advantage of qualified dividends over interest income will be preserved, along with the parity between dividend and capital gains tax rates.
So for most dividend investors, very little about their investments has changed.
The difference is that these new rates are permanent – there's no 10-year horizon, as there was with the previous 15% dividend tax rate. So investment planning just got a bit easier.
The bottom line is that with the fiscal cliff deal, there are now three good reasons why dividend stocks are irresistible.