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S&P 500 Q4 2018 Buybacks Set Quarterly Record at $223 Billion; 2018 Sets Record Too

Traders Magazine Online News, April 4, 2019

John D'Antona Jr.

S&P Dow Jones Indices announced preliminary Q4 2018 S&P 500® stock buybacks, or share repurchases, set a fourth consecutive record of $223.0 billion. This displaces the previous record of $203.8 billion, set during Q3 2018 and is a 62.8% increase from the $137.0 billion reported for Q4 2017.

For the year 2018, buybacks set an annual (and 12-month) record of $806.4 billion, up 55.3% from the prior year’s $519.4 billion, and up 36.9% from the prior annual record set in 2007, of $589.1 billion.

Historical data on S&P 500 buybacks are available at www.spdji.com/indices/equity/sp-500.

Key Takeaways:

  1. The record buybacks came as Q4 2018 stock prices declined an average 5.3%, which increased the number of shares that companies could repurchase for the same amount of capital.
  2. As a result, the percentage of companies that substantially reduced share counts of at least 4% year-over-year rose to 18.8% (90 total issues), up from the prior quarter’s 17.7% (88 total issues) and Q4 2017’s 15.1% (70 total issues), giving EPS a stronger tailwind.
  3. S&P 500 Q4 2018 dividends totaled $119.8 billion, a new record, up 3.5% from the $115.7 billion in Q3 2018.
  4. Total shareholder return of buybacks and dividends for the quarter set a record of $342.8 billion, up 39.1% from the $246.4 billion reported for Q4 2017.
  5. Total shareholder return for 2018 set a record at $1.263 trillion, surpassing Q3’s 12-month record of $1.166 trillion, and up 34.5% from $931.9 billion from 2017.

“Buybacks were again favored over dividends in both the rate of growth and aggregate dollars spent,” said Howard Silverblatt, Senior Index Analyst at S&P Dow Jones Indices. “Companies continued to spend more of their tax savings on these share repurchases as they boosted earnings through significantly reduced share counts. Adding to the share reduction, and therefore the EPS impact, was Q4’s stock price decline, which permitted companies to buy even more shares for their dollars and reduce share count more efficiently.”

Silverblatt added “buybacks broadened out in Q4, as the top 20 issues accounted for 44.4% of all S&P 500 buybacks, near the recent historical average of 43.7%, down from Q3’s 54.3%, Q2’s 49.7% and Q1’s 49.5%. For the year, however, the top 20 accounted for 42.2% of the buybacks, substantially up from 2017’s 32.3%.”

Q4 2018 GICS® Sector Analysis:

Information Technology buybacks declined 25.5% to $61.3 billion compared to $82.3 billion for Q3 2018, as 2018 expenditures were up 134.4% to $278.5 billion from $118.8 billion in 2017. The sector represents 27.5% of the index’s buybacks for the quarter and 34.5% for all of 2018.

Health Care expenditures increased 116.4% to $31.3 billion compared to $14.5 billion for Q3 2018, as 2018 amounted to $108.7 billion, up 67.3% from the 2017 $65.0 billion expenditure.

Consumer sectors split (again), as Consumer Discretionary buybacks increased their expenditure 30.3% to $25.7 billion, up from $19.7 billion for Q3 2018; 2018 was $86.7 billion, up 3.7% from $83.6 billion. Consumer Staples decreased 4.4% to $9.6 billion, down from $10.0 billion for Q3 2018; 2018 was down 34.2% to $33.4 billion from $50.8 billion.

Issues:

The five issues with the highest total buybacks for Q4 2018 are:

? Apple (AAPL) led in buybacks, spending $10.1 billion in Q4 2018, down from $19.4 billion spent for Q3 2018. Its Q4 2018 expenditure ranked 19th highest historically; for the year, Apple spent $74.2 billion on buybacks, up from 2017’s $34.4 billion; over the five-year period the company spent $229.0 billion, and $260.4 billion over the 10-year period.

? Oracle (ORCL): $10.0 billion for Q4 2018, down from $10.3 billion for Q3 2018; 2018 was $29.3 billion, up $4.0 billion in 2017.

? Wells Fargo (WFC): $7.3 billion for Q4 2018, slightly down from the $7.4 billion spent in Q3 2018; 2018 was $21.0 billion, up from $10.3 billion in 2017.

? Microsoft (MSFT): $6.4 billion for Q4 2018, up from $3.7 billion for Q3 2018; 2018 was $16.3 billion, up from $8.4 billion in 2017.

? Merck (MRK): $5.9 billion for Q4 2018, up from $1.0 billion for Q3 2018; 2018 was $9.1 billion, up from $4.0 billion in 2017. For more information about S&P Dow Jones Indices, please visit www.spdji.com.

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