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U.S. buybacks seen at record highs ahead of earnings reports

U.S. buybacks seen at record highs ahead of earnings reports

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York City, U.S., April 4, 2022. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

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April 6 (Infoday US) – U.S. stock buybacks appear to be hitting new records as companies head into quarterly earnings season, even as some investors worry about the growing threat of inflation, a potential recession and stagnant share prices.

New repurchase announcements by U.S. companies reached over $300 billion in the first quarter, with March showing a strong year over year increase, suggesting buybacks have remained resilient in recent weeks, according to financial data firm EPFR, Informa Financial Intelligence.

Seen as a major contributor to Wall Street’s gains in the past several years, stock buybacks will be in the spotlight when results are unveiled. Companies typically buy back their shares when they are feeling confident about the future and view their stock prices as undervalued.

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Investors are broadly worried about inflation and the threat of a recession on corporate outlooks, which could sour the willingness of companies to return money to shareholders in the form of big buybacks and dividends.

JPMorgan (JPM.N) Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon said on Monday his bank would reduce its stock buybacks over the next year to meet capital increases required by federal rules. read more

Also on Monday, Starbucks Corp (SBUX.O) said it would pause billions of dollars of stock buybacks to invest more in employees and stores at a time when the coffee seller faces growing unionization of its U.S. workforce. read more

“I don’t think these are one-offs. I think you’re going to see more companies perhaps slow down their buyback process and be more like they were in early 2020, thinking, ‘how much cash do I need on my balance sheet to weather this particular storm if in fact we go into a recession’,” predicted Art Hogan, chief market strategist at National Securities in New York.

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S&P 500 companies plowed around $880 billion into buying their own shares last year, up from $520 billion in 2020, according to S&P Dow Jones Indices.

Goldman Sachs in a report last month estimated S&P 500 companies in 2022 will spend $1 trillion buying up their own shares.

EPFR, Informa Financial Intelligence analyst Winston Chua, who tracks new buyback announcements, said that – at least for now – companies appear to be aggressively repurchasing their shares. New buybacks announced in March reached about $74 billion, compared to $54 billion in March 2021, Chua said.

Grace Peters, EMEA head of investment strategy at JPMorgan Private Bank in London, predicted that major companies’ relatively strong balance sheets will give them the security to continue their current strong pace of buybacks.

Analysts on average expect S&P 500 (.SPX) companies’ earnings to have grown 6.4% in the March quarter, according to I/B/E/S data from Refinitiv, compared to over 30% growth in the prior quarter.

The benchmark stock index remains down almost 6% from its record high close in early January, partly recovering from a loss of about 13%.

“Earnings look robust yet there is huge volatility. That’s a classic thing company boards would look at,” Peters said.

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Reporting by Noel Randewich; additional reporting by Sujata Rao-Coverley in London; editing by Megan Davies, Bernard Orr

Our Standards: The Thomson Infoday US Trust Principles.

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