Ryan Frederickby Ryan Frederick
Equity Analyst, Gradient Analytics LLC (a Sabrient Systems company)

Stock buybacks (or share repurchases – we will use the terms interchangeably) have garnered significant attention as publicly-traded companies have repurchased shares at record levels (in terms of dollars spent). In 2018, companies in the S&P 500 spent $806 billion on buybacks (about 3.8% of public float), shattering the previous record of $590 billion spent in 2007 (about 5.3% of public float) by 36.6%. Few topics provoke as intense of a response from those in the world of finance as to what role buybacks should play – whether in a given company’s cash management strategy or for the broader market as a whole. There are various viewpoints on the subject, but there’s a good chance you’ve primarily heard buybacks described in pejorative terms. The negative framing ranges from management using buybacks to manipulate EPS growth and share prices (with no underlying change in the company’s financial condition), to shortchanging long-term investments and employees, to cannibalization, to mis-spending tax cuts, to outright calls for the practice to be outlawed.

Indeed, it is easy to frame buyback programs in a negative light, and some of the connotations may be deserved. To be sure, corporate executives often focus so much on EPS performance that they might choose to engage in short-sighted and/or self-centered activities. (Whether they can get away with it is another matter.) However, the truth about buybacks is much more complicated than typically presented as there is a confluence of many factors and questions that must be considered, such as: What timeframe was used to analyze the effects? Was it the right timeframe? What are a company’s alternative investment opportunities before, during, and after a buyback program? Can an outsider refute with certainty what is/isn’t a good use of cash? What is the cost of capital and opportunity cost? What are the macroeconomic conditions, e.g., interest rates, fiscal policy, trade wars?

Moreover, do buybacks actually lift a given company’s share price and the value of an index that holds it? Is this practice such an epidemic and scourge on society that the federal government should step in to regulate what a private company (or by extension, its shareholders) can or cannot do with its cash? Should a buyback intended to reduce public float be made illegal once again (as it was until 1982)? We believe the answers to these questions are more nuanced than the media presents, so we will attempt to offer some additional insight. Read on….

This year, the S&P 500 has greatly underperformed its average 18% return that it historically provides during the third year of a Presidential election cycle. But then, a lot seems to be different this year as correlations across most asset classes are high and prices are buffeted more by news events than fundamentals (which has made stock picking quite challenging).

The Fed’s decision to not raise the fed funds rate at this time was ultimately taken by the market as a no-confidence vote on our economic health, which just added to the fear and uncertainty that was already present. Rather than cheering the decision, market participants took the initial euphoric rally as a selling opportunity, and the proverbial wall of worry grew a bit higher.

Today brought three better than expected economic releases from Construction Spending, ISM Manufacturing, and Personal Income. The ISM figure was quite unexpected and Personal Income was well above expectations.  If we ignore for a moment that the Final GDP reading for Q4 was lowered on Friday (which may or may not have been primarily caused by severe weather), we have had a week of better than expected economic numbers.

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From the Fed, from Congress and President, and from Europe for starters. Chairman Bernanke may give us the former as he testifies on Tuesday and Wednesday this week.  Congress must act by Friday over the sequestration issues.  And Italy could’ve helped a bit today if its election resulted in a more stable government, although that does appear to be happening.

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The market surprised us this morning with a strong performance. It could be supported by confidence in Housing, as existing sales were better-than-expected and downright positive (stay tuned for more numbers from housing sector tomorrow). Or it could be a technical move off of support at 1343 for S&P 500, which would be nice if the market recognized at healthy 10% sell-off and is now moving forward.

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Here we are again wondering what the market wants.  Today, it clearly wasn’t Technology stocks, as various issues dragged both Apple (AAPL) and Google (GOOG) lower.

david / Tag: AAPL, CHMT, DAL, DFS, EWP, financials, GOOG, HFC, IEV, JPM, S&P 500, STX, technology, VGK, WFC / 0 Comments

Quintuple Witching Economic Indicator Week

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Earnings Season is the Key

by David Brown, Chief Market Strategist, Sabrient Systems

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