When stock market indices are near record highs, one suspicion is that issuers may be propping up their share prices by pouring cash into buybacks.
But that wasn’t the case among the S&P 500 companies last quarter, according to new data from S&P Dow Jones Indices. Most of the S&P 500 companies also don’t appear to have meaningfully boosted earnings per share last quarter through buybacks.
Second-quarter share buybacks by S&P 500 companies fell 9.8% in the second quarter compared with the first, says S&P Dow Jones Indices. The $120.1 billion total was a 5.8% decrease from a year ago. Buybacks for index members also fell 14.5% in the 12-month period ending June 2017.
The second-quarter total was the lowest since 2014. While S&P 500 companies have record amounts of cash to repurchase shares, high share prices may be scaring some off. In addition, solid earnings reports suggest they may also not feel the need to boost EPS by reducing their share counts.
“Share buyback expenditures for Q2 2017 declined, as share prices increased, resulting in fewer share repurchases and a weaker tailwind for EPS,” noted Howard Silverblatt, senior index analyst at S&P Dow Jones Indices.
As a rule, Silverblatt says issuers need to cut shares by 4% to meaningfully impact EPS. Only 66 of the S&P 500 companies reduced their share count by that amount in the second quarter, compared with 71 in the first quarter. A year ago, more than one-fifth of all S&P 500 issuers cut their share count by 4%.
“[Wall Street] is interpreting the decline in discretionary buybacks, which reduce share counts and increase EPS, as a positive sign; while there is less support for EPS growth, companies are showing an ability to meet their EPS targets without the buyback tailwind, as their Q2 2017 record earnings show,” says Silverblatt.
“While buybacks can fuel EPS growth, if companies can ‘make it on their own,’ as they appear to be doing, the market should be more stable,” he also opined.
Among the top purchasers of shares by dollar amount, only Apple and Boeing did not increase the dollar size of their share buybacks in the second quarter. Apple bought $7.1 billion worth of shares, down from $7.2 billion in the first quarter. Boeing bought $2.5 billion in shares, flat with the first quarter.
The top 20 issues accounted for 38.6% of all share repurchases, down from 42.1% in the first quarter. That was the lowest concentration of buybacks since the top 20 issuers recorded 37.6% of all share repurchases in the fourth quarter of 2015.
While buybacks declined, S&P 500 dividends set a new record payment, at $104.0 billion. That was up from $100.9 billion in the first quarter.