by Wolf Richter, via SRSRocco Report:
Companies in the S&P 500 spent about $3 trillion since 2011 to buy back their own shares, often with borrowed money. It’s part of a noble magic called financial engineering, the simplest way to goose the all-important metric of earnings per share (by lowering the number of shares outstanding). And it creates buying pressure in the stock market that drives up share prices.
With buybacks, you don’t need to sell one extra iPhone to boost your earnings per share. So the amounts have grown and grown. With ultra-cheap money available to borrow endlessly, companies take on debt and hollow out shareholder equity. It has worked like a charm. Stock prices have soared. Declining revenues and earnings, no problem. But something is happening that hasn’t happened since the Financial Crisis.
Share buybacks in the third quarter plunged 28% year-over-year, to $115.6 billion, the biggest year-over-year dive since Q3 2009, according to FactSet. It was the second quarter in a row of declines, from the glorious Q1 this year, when buybacks had reached $168 billion, behind only Q3 2007 before it all came apart.
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