Category Archives: shares buybacks

31/5/20: S&P500 Shares Buybacks: Retained Earnings and Risk Hedging

Shares buybacks can have a severely destabilizing impact on longer term companies' valuations, as noted in numerous posts on this blog. In the COVID19 pandemic, legacy shares buybacks are associated with reduced cash reserves cushions and thiner equity floats for the companies that aggressively pursued this share price support strategy in recent years. Hence, logic suggests that companies more aggressively engaging in shares buybacks should exhibit greater downside volatility - de facto acting as de-hedging instrument for risk management.

Here is the evidence:

Note how dramatically poorer S&P500 Shares Buybacks index performance has been compared to the overall S&P500 in recent weeks. Since the start of March 2020, S&P500 Shares Buybacks index average daily performance measured in y/y returns has been -15.04%, against the S&P500 index overall performance of -0.89%. Cumulatively, at the end of this week, S&P500 Shares Buybacks index total return is down 10.18 percent against S&P500 total return of -0.967 percent.

While in good times companies have strong incentives to redistribute their returns to shareholders either through dividends or through share price supports or both, during the bad times having spare cash on balancesheet in the form of retained earnings makes all the difference. Or, as any sane person knows, insurance is a cost during the times of the normal, but a salvation during the times of shocks.

18/3/20: What’s Scarier? Corporate Finance or COVID?

Larger corporates in the U.S. are seeking public supports in the face of COVID19 pandemic, from airlines to banks, and the demand for public resources is likely to rise over time as the disease takes its toll on the economy.

Yet, one of the key problems faced by companies today is down to the long running strategies of creating financial supports for share prices that companies pursued over the good part of the last decade, including shares buybacks and payouts of dividends. These strategies have been demanded by the activist investors across numerous campaigns and by shareholders, and have been incentivized by the pay structures for the companies executives.

Artificial supports for share price valuations are financially dangerous in the long run, even though they generate higher shareholder value in the short run. The danger comes from:

  1. Shares buybacks using companies cash to effectively inflate share prices, reduce free float of shares and lower the number of shareholders in the company, thereby reducing future space for issuance of new shares;
  2. Shares buybacks have often been accompanied by companies borrowing at ultra-low interest rates to purchase own firm equity, reducing equity capital and increasing debt exposures;
  3. Shares buybacks generate future expectations of more buybacks, even during the times of financial weaknesses;
  4. Shares buybacks also reduce future firms' capacity to borrow by either increasing debt to equity ratio, increasing overall debt loads carried by the firm or both;
  5. Payouts of dividends also use cash reserves the company can hold to offset any future risks to its financial wellbeing and to invest in organic growth and R&D;
  6. Payouts of dividends create future expectations of higher dividends from investors, reducing firm's capacity to deploy its cash elsewhere;
  7. Payouts of dividends increase cum dividend prise to earnings ratios, reducing the overall capacity of the firm to raise capital cheaply in the future.
These are just some of the factors that overall imply that shares buybacks and payouts of extraordinary (or financial unsustainable) dividends can be a dangerous approach to managing corporate finances. 

So here is the evidence on just how deeply destabilizing the scale of shares buybacks and dividends payouts has been within the S&P 500 sector:

In Q3 2019, shares buybacks and dividends yielded USD1,246.73 billion on a four-quarters trailing basis, fourth highest quarter on record. Overall market yield contributions from buybacks (3.12%) was higher than that from dividends (1.81%), with combined yield of 5.05%. In simple terms, any company operating today will have to allocate 5.05 percent of its return to simply match shares buybacks and dividend payouts yields. This is a very high fence to jump.

Put differently, what the above data shows is that just one, single quarter - Q3 2019 - has managed to absorb more resources in shares repurchases and dividend payouts than what the corporate America is currently asking in financial supports from Washington. 

What's scarier? Corporate finance or corona virus?.. 

6/9/19: Small Cap Stocks EPS: racing to the bottom of the MAGA barrel

Everything is going just plain swimmingly in the Land of MAGA, where American companies are now expected to do their duty by President Trump's agenda for investment in the U.S. because, you know, this:

As 'share' part of the EPS ratio has shrunk (thanks to buybacks and M&As tsunami of recent vintage), earnings per share should have gone up... and up... and up. Instead, small cap stocks' EPS has collapsed. To the lowest levels since the 2007-2008 crisis.

But never mind, more money printing by the Fed will surely cure it all.

Source for the above chart: @soberlook and WSJ.

7/7/19: Investment for growth is at record lows for S&P500

Interesting chart via @DavidSchawel showing changes over time in corporate (S&P500 companies) distribution of earnings:

In simple terms:

  1. Much discussed shares buybacks are still the rage: running at 31% of all cash distributions, second highest level after 34% in 2007. On a cumulated basis, and taking into the account already reduced free float in S&P 500 over the years, this is a massive level of buybacks.
  2. 'Investment for growth' - as defined - is at 51% - the lowest on record.
  3. Meaningful investment for growth (often opportunistic M&As) is at 38%, tied for the lowest with 2007 figure.
S&P 500 firms are clearly not in investment mode. Despite 'Trump incentives' - under the TCJA 2017 tax cuts act - actual capex is running tied to the second lowest levels for 2018 and 2019, at 26% of all cash distributions.

4/3/19: S&P 500 Share Price Support Scams are a Raging Trend

Having posted a record-breaking USD939 billion of shares repurchases in 2018, Corporate America is on track to set a new record-wrecking year of buybacks in 2019. per latest data from JPM (via @zerohedge), January-February 2019 saw USD187 billion worth of shares repurchases in S&P 500 index constituent companies.

This is a notch higher than in 2018 and almost 90 percent above 2017 period.