As interest rates rise, companies are less inclined to buy their own stock. This is the lowest level of share buybacks since the Covid-19 pandemic.
The S&P 500 benchmark index shows that companies spent $175bn on buying back shares during the three-month period ending June. This is a decline of 20% from the same quarter in 2018 and a decline of 19% from the first three month in 2023.
Analysts believe the slowdown could be the start of a long-term trend, which would put downward pressure on the stock market.
Jill Carey Hall is an equity and quant strategy at Bank of America. She said that structural reasons and the interest rate climate are both contributing factors. We would expect the buybacks will be smaller in the near future. Corporate buybacks have become an increasingly important but controversial part of stock markets in recent years. They can directly prop up share prices by adding to demand and also help improve profitability on an earnings per share basis by reducing the number of shares in circulation.
Share buybacks are criticized by those who believe that they artificially boost share prices, reward executives and divert funds from long-term investments or pay increases for lower-paid workers.
Buybacks are less important for companies now that they have to deal with a combination of higher borrowing costs and new investment requirements.
When rates were zero, it was a good idea for companies to borrow money at low interest rates and buy back shares. Carey Hall explained that this is no longer the case. She added that businesses face increased pressures to invest in areas like reshoring of supply chains, automation, artificial intelligence, and achieving net zero targets.
The crisis in the banking industry in March exacerbated the second quarter decline. After a cautious 2020, many banks increased their repurchases during the first quarter. Financial groups surpassed tech for the first six years as the largest sector in repurchases.
Bank buybacks have slowed down after regulators announced new capital requirements and the collapse of a few smaller lenders raised questions about the health of this sector.
Howard Silverblatt is a senior index analyst for S&P. He said, “In the future, there will be more regulations than bank failures. They need to protect their Dividends again.” Dividends always win when it comes to choosing between buybacks and keeping dividends.
Since the beginning of this year, US stock buybacks are also subject to a 1 percent tax. Silverblatt stated that the tax, at its current rate, had had little impact. The levy is a rare instance of a bipartisan initiative, and it’s expected to increase in the next few years. This could further put pressure on spending.
“Some companies may be affected sooner, but a tax of 2.5 percent is what I believe would have a significant effect. . . Silverblatt said that the shift in spending away from buybacks to dividends was a part of this.
Investors, especially in Europe, believe that companies should return capital through dividends rather than buybacks. Buybacks, say companies, are more flexible because they can be increased or reduced as conditions change. A dividend cut often results in a steep drop in the stock price.