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Stock Buyback Boom In 2018

 March 26 2019     David Templeton
Yesterday S&P Dow Jones Indices reported stock buyback activity for the S&P 500 Index as of the end of the fourth quarter 2018. Highlights from S&P DJI report:
  • Q4 share repurchases increased 62.8% year-over-year to a record $223.0 billion
  • Total 2018 buybacks set record $806.4 billion, up 55.3% year-over-year, and up 36.9% from the record $589.1 billion set in 2007
  • Almost every S&P 500 constituent – 444 – repurchased shares in 2018, up from 424 in 2017
  • Apple spent the most in 2018 buybacks at $74.2 billion

The level of buybacks provided a tailwind for earnings growth in the fourth quarter as well as the entire calendar year 2018. S&P DJI notes, "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.)" The four quarter buyback plus dividend yield equaled 6.0% in Q4 2018 and up from 4.75% in Q3 2018.

Lastly, S&P DJI listed the below five companies as having the largest total buybacks in the fourth quarter,

  • 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.