Publicly traded companies are increasingly taking one of the safest routes for investing profits:
By repurchasing company shares.
For the 2nd quarter of 2014, companies spent a whopping $116.2 billion repurchasing shares.
Believe it or not, that’s 1.6% lower than during the 2nd quarter of 2013.
Apple topped the list of the buyback kings. The company repurchased nearly $5 billion worth of shares this past spring.
Then again, that was down significantly from the tech giant’s record-setting $16 billion of repurchased shares, again back in Q2 of 2013.
Investing in the company – and shareholders’ pockets
S&P 500 companies lo-o-ove investing in themselves. This is a trend that’s been on the rise since the market crashed in 2008 with no foreseeable drop in sight.
From July 2013-June 2014, S&P 500 firms shelled out $533 billion repurchasing shares – a 26.6% jump. The busiest period was in the first quarter of this year as firms paid $159.3 billion for their own stocks, the second largest repurchase quarter ever.
So what’s going on here?
There are at least two positive signs from the continuing boom in repurchases:
1. Companies by and large have cash on hand. The bottom line for small companies, medium-sized firms and corporations is better than five years ago.
2. Stockholders are sharing in the wealth. Many money market funds that the largest number of workers are staking their retirements on have bounced back.
Now the negatives:
1. Hiring remains flat. Many companies have remained profitable even after trimming staff and salaries (of course, reducing payroll and benefits also helps some companies come out ahead).
2. Smaller companies say the U.S.’s sky-high corporate tax rates and government regulations make expanding the business more difficult than ever.
And corporations increasingly favor shielding income from Uncle Sam. Think Burger King relocating up north and Medtronic heading for the Emerald Isle.
While repurchases aren’t truly investments (they don’t show up in the Cash Flow from Investing column), they constitute a company reinvesting in itself. For now, that strategy makes a lot of sense.