Jul 3, 2019

The increasing importance of share buybacks

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Share buybacks contributed about half of S&P 500 companies’ earnings growth in the first quarter, a new report from JPMorgan shows.

Why it matters: "This is corporate executives saying, 'Rather than investing back into the business by making capital expenditures or buying equipment, I’m just going to buy my own shares,'" says David Kelly, a global market strategist at JPMorgan Asset Management, which published the report.

  • "That says a lot about your view of the long-term prospects for your business."

Quick take: Buybacks accounted for the highest share of EPS growth since 2007, and Q1's share was almost 8 times higher than the average from 2001 to 2018, the bank found.

The big picture: S&P earnings growth has been a major worry for stock analysts this year, after 2018's blowout earnings following the passage of the Tax Cut and Jobs Act. The permanent reduction in corporate taxes was backed by President Trump and Congressional Republicans as a catalyst for a boost in wages and long-term investment.

  • While companies have slightly raised compensation and increased spending on business infrastructure and R&D, the overwhelming majority of tax cut savings has been spent by firms to buy back their own shares.
  • The trend has gotten so strong that Moody's warned in May companies were spending more on buybacks and dividends than they were paying in taxes before the cut.

Remember: Stock prices typically are tied to salaries and job performance reviews for top executives and boards, the very people making the spending decisions.

  • Companies spent more than $1 trillion buybacks last year and are on pace to spend more in 2019.
  • Earnings also were particularly low in Q1, Axios' Felix Salmon points out, making the increased level of buybacks an even larger percentage.

The last word: JPM's Kelly says the rising level of stock buybacks is one major reason he and other market analysts are worried about continued growth of business output, stock prices and the broader economy.

  • "This is probably one of the bigger issues that we’ve been talking about."
  • "It could perpetuate the slower growth environment we’ve seen in this expansion."

Go deeper: Too much money (and too few places to invest it)

Go deeper

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 3 p.m. ET: 766,336 — Total deaths: 36,873 — Total recoveries: 160,001.
  2. U.S.: Leads the world in confirmed cases. Total confirmed cases as of 3 p.m. ET: 153,246 — Total deaths: 2,828 — Total recoveries: 5,545.
  3. Federal government latest: The White House will extend its social distancing guidelines until April 30 — Rep. Nydia Velázquez diagnosed with "presumed" coronavirus infection.
  4. State updates: Virginia and Maryland issued stay-at-home orders to residents, joining 28 other states — Florida megachurch pastor arrested for refusing to call off mass services.
  5. World updates: Italy reports 1,590 recoveries from the virus, its highest ever.
  6. In photos: Navy hospital ship arrives in Manhattan
  7. What should I do? Answers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingQ&A: Minimizing your coronavirus risk
  8. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it.

Subscribe to Mike Allen's Axios AM to follow our coronavirus coverage each morning from your inbox.

Cuomo: Engaging in politics during coronavirus crisis is "anti-American"

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said during a Monday press briefing that he won't get into a political tussle with President Trump — calling it "counterproductive" and "anti-American" — as his state deals with the most confirmed coronavirus cases in the country.

The backdrop: Trump said during an appearance on "Fox & Friends" earlier Monday that Cuomo has received high polling numbers during the outbreak because New York has received federal aid.

Maryland and Virginia issue coronavirus stay-at-home orders

Data: Axios reporting; Map: Danielle Alberti/Axios

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam issued stay-at-home orders on Monday, with exceptions for residents engaged in essential services, including health care and government functions.

The big picture: The states are the latest to announce policies to enforce social distancing, which have affected almost 250 million Americans. More than 1.5 billion people worldwide had been asked to stay home as of last week.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 2 hours ago - Health