Void Left by Dearth of Buybacks Filled by Robinhood Traders

The decline in stock repurchases by U.S. companies is being partially offset by demand from retail investors, according to a recent article in Bloomberg.

According to client note from Goldman Sachs Group strategists, “Broker data show a surge in retail equity trading activity,” and “Foreign investors and households will supplant corporations as the largest 2020 source of U.S. equity demand.”

The trend stands in stark contrast to the previous four years, when companies reportedly spent more than $2 trillion on share repurchases, “dwarfing every other category of investors, according to Federal Reserve data compiled by Goldman. Over the stretch, households bought only $41 billion of stocks, mostly in 2017, and overseas investors were net sellers.”

According to the article, Goldman strategists are highlighting the role that retail traders have played in the market’s recovery from its March bottom: “The fear-of-missing-out has been fueling buying by day traders, such as those on the commission-free brokerage Robinhood, who pounce on companies with little or no profit and send their stock price surging.”

But while Goldman argues that individual investor interest will represent a significant driver of equity demand this year, Morgan Stanley’s Mike Wilson says the effect is overblown. In a note to clients, he explained that the actual dollar flows from retail account openings is small: “The data supporting the ‘retail driving the rally’ is incomplete, circumstantial and tends to leave out some important considerations.” He added, “There is surely some impact but this is more at the stock than the market level.”