S&P buybacks grabbing over half of earnings

S&P’s Howard Silverblatt is out with a preliminary reading on 2024Q1’s stock buybacks. In a phrase, they were big, if not quite the biggest.

Buybacks for S&P 500 stocks totaled $237 billion in the quarter, up 8% from the previous quarter and 9% from a year earlier. At an annualized rate, that equaled 3.4% of GDP, up from 2.9% last year and above the 3.1% average since 2005. Firms devoted over half their operating earnings—51.4% to be precise—to purchasing their own shares, slightly below the average since 2012. The buyback sum equaled a third of nonresidential fixed investment.

Call us old-fashioned, but maybe a larger share of earnings should be devoted to capital spending. Note how much lower the share devoted to buybacks were in the late 1990s, a time of high investment and rapid productivity growth.

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