The Buyback Binge is Ending

The market is seeing an end to the era of share buybacks to “one where capital spending matters,” according to a recent article in Barron’s.

Companies in the S&P 500, it reports, are going to repurchase $500 billion shares this year, the lowest number since 2012 (data from INTLFCStone). The timing for this is appropriate, however, given the slowdown in quantitative easing (which had provided cheap money for repurchases). Higher borrowing costs together with high share valuations, the article says, means companies will get “less bang for their buyback buck.”

Instead, it explains, “companies will need to spend on capital improvement and research and development in order to push up productivity and growth.” According to Morgan Stanley analyst Michael Wilson, “We believe rising business investment and R&D to drive productivity and growth can ultimately be a positive for equities.”

Such a new environment, however, won’t bode well for every business. The article cites the example of Coca Cola which, it argues, faces few alternatives for boosting growth.