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If I understand this correctly, what appeared to have been ordinary dividends on QCOM are some special nontaxable distribution that reduce my cost basis. This seems curious. Am I confused or is it possible there was an incorrect classification at ameritrade?

That's correct. QCOM did not pay ordinary dividends. Dividends are paid out of earnings. If a company has insufficient earnings to cover the cash distributed as a dividend, the excess distribution is a return of capital. In the case of QCOM, none of the "dividends" it has ever paid have been taxable dividends as it apparently does not have sufficient retained earnings.

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