What Are Stock Buybacks?

What Are Stock Buybacks?

Over the past couple of decades, stock buybacks have become a big part of the way companies use their profits to return capital to shareholders. In the first quarter of 2022 alone, companies announced more than $300 billion in new repurchase authorizations, an all-time high. In 2021, repurchases totaled $880 billion just from companies on the S&P 500 index, and it’s estimated the total will exceed $1 trillion in 2022. Source: Getty images However, stock buybacks — also known as share repurchases — aren’t well-understood by many investors. Sure, the basic concept is simple: A company buys shares of its own stock. But the process behind it and the reasons why companies might choose to buy back their stock remain a mystery to many, as does the answer to whether stock buybacks are good for investors. In this article, we’ll dive into the basic knowledge investors need to know about stock buybacks and why it’s important to know how they work. Understanding stock buybacks

When a company has excess profits, or otherwise has accumulated cash on its balance sheet, there are a few different ways it can use the money. It can reinvest profits into the business by developing new products or increasing its inventory. It can acquire other businesses. It can pay a dividend to shareholders. And, it can use its cash to buy back shares of its own stock.

Many companies use some combination of these methods. For example, many stocks that pay dividends also buy back shares.

The mechanics of stock buybacks are usually quite simple. First, the buyback program is established. The company’s board will authorize the buyback, typically for a specific dollar amount with an expiration date. For example, you might read that “Company XYZ’s board of directors has approved a $500 million buyback authorization, beginning on July 1, 2022, and ending on June 30, 2023.”

To be clear, a buyback authorization doesn’t mean that the company will buy back any shares. In fact, buyback authorizations go unused quite frequently. But the authorization gives management the ability to do it.

Next, the company buys back shares. It typically does so on the open market, just like you and I would buy shares of a stock . In some cases, buybacks can be done directly from shareholders through a process known as a tender offer.

Finally, the repurchased shares are absorbed by the company, and the number of outstanding shares decreases. Why do companies buy back their shares?

At first it might sound odd that companies buy back shares of their own stock. But there are some solid reasons for doing so. Specifically: The stock is undervalued

If you could buy a $100 bill for $50, wouldn’t you do so as often as possible? That’s essentially one of the biggest reasons companies choose to buy back stock. If a company’s board of directors thinks its stock is trading for a significant discount to its intrinsic value, it may choose to act aggressively with buybacks. We’ve seen this quite a bit in the financial sector in recent years, and this is the reason Warren Buffett has given regarding Berkshire Hathaway ’s ( NYSE:BRK.A )( NYSE:BRK.B ) stock buybacks.

In the midst of the 2022 stock market downturn, many companies in industries and sectors that historically don’t buy back shares — such as rapidly growing tech companies and real estate investment trusts ( REITs ) — implemented buyback programs. The most common reason cited was that management believes the stock is a bargain relative to its intrinsic value. An (almost) tax-free way to return capital

Unless you own shares of a stock in a tax-advantaged account such as an IRA , dividends are generally taxable. To be sure, the tax rates imposed on most dividends are better than those on ordinary income, but we’re still talking about a tax hit on dividends between 15% and 23.8% for most investors.

Meanwhile, when a company uses excess profits to buy back stock, it doesn’t create a taxable event for shareholders. It’s worth noting that the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act contains a 1% excise tax on buybacks (assessed on the company), but this is still far less than the tax hit investors would face if the company chose to pay it out as a dividend instead. Increase earnings per share

Companies generally don’t like to acknowledge this one, but the reality is that buybacks can make a company’s earnings growth appear better than it actually is.

Let’s say that Company X has 10 million outstanding shares and […]

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