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S&P 500 companies have become “cash rich” as the combination of tax reform and a decade of strong economic growth has resulted in very healthy corporate balance sheets. Accordingly, we have seen the level of cash allocated to corporate stock buybacks steadily increase as corporate leaders continue to have confidence in their companies’ future growth prospects.
During the first half of 2018, the level of S&P 500 planned corporate buybacks has picked up substantially, with announcements exceeding $600 billion through July, which already exceeds the annual levels over the prior decade. Tax reform has significantly improved the profitability of companies, reducing their corporate tax rate from 35% to 21%, with much of that improved cash flow being redeployed into funding business expansions, R&D efforts, acquisitions, and most notably stock buybacks.
However, these numbers are announced buyback approvals and corporations are not always compelled to execute on announced buybacks. If their stock continues higher or growth prospects weaken, they may wait for a more reasonable valuation before executing the buyback. If buybacks are executed prior to growth prospects decelerating and/or a decline of the stock price the capital used on buybacks could prove to have been capital destructive.
It remains unknown how much of these buyback approvals will actually be deployed by S&P 500 companies in today’s high valuation environment. Only time will tell if this corporate buyback activity is well timed or capital destructive.
The opinions expressed herein are those of Marquette Associates, Inc. (“Marquette”), and are subject to change without notice. This material is not financial advice or an offer to purchase or sell any product. Marquette reserves the right to modify its current investment strategies and techniques based on changing market dynamics or client needs.
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