Employment

Companies Shy From Hiring, Investment

Uncertainty rules

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Companies are returning capital to shareholders in record numbers, adding to the year-end surge ahead of 2013 tax increases, as reluctance to boost investment and hiring persists.

The jump in dividend hikes and buybacks this year comes amid a stock market rally that has seen the Dow Jones industrial average reach record highs. …

Data for factory orders in January indicate businesses are willing to invest more this year. Core capital goods leapt 7.1% from December, the Commerce Department said Wednesday.

But other surveys suggest the long-awaited flood of hoarded corporate cash remains unlikely, amid lingering fiscal uncertainty and caution over the economy. And much of the spending is going to upgrades and maintenance rather than expansion.