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Good Companies Buy Their Own Stock
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Stock Buyback Announcements
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Price Company Aflac BB and T Biomet Bear Stearns Health Mgt. Assoc. Johnson & Johnson Lehman Brothers Lexmark MGIC Invest. Co. Royal Dutch Petrol. Tenet Healthcare
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*Adjusted for dividends and splits.
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Symbol AFL BBT BMET BSC HMA JNJ LEH LXK MTG RD THC
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Date Feb. 12 Feb. 27 Mar. 26 Jan. 8 Feb. 21 Feb. 13 Jan. 25 Feb. 21 Jan. 24 Feb. 7 Feb. 14
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No. Shares (Millions) 25 40 30 20 5 80 78 4 5.5 1.5 10
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Then* $24.55 34.49 26.12 56.69 18.66 56.04 56.34 51.50 63.78 46.72 41.37
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Now (2004) $35.00 37.15 38.98 87.84 22.29 53.91 86.71 82.29 66.18 49.59 2.02
% Change 42.0 0.003 48.0 45.0 19.0 8.0 23.0 60.0 0.3 0.09 71.0
That worry prompted Yahoo s move. Sometimes a buyback is a sign that a company is very bullish about its own prospects. And with Nasdaq stocks down, on average, over 40 percent since last summer, companies can buy a lot more shares for fewer dollars, potentially giving a bigger boost to earnings per share.1
Obviously, stock buybacks create more value in the stock, thereby giving something to the shareholder: value instead of a taxable dividend. Another obvious point is the positive image a company puts out by announcing a stock buyback. They wouldn t buy it if it were too expensive. Right
GOOD NEWS AND BAD NEWS
Companies also use buybacks when they have bad news to report. Obviously, the well-timed positive announcements are intended to soften the blow. It s the we ve got good news and bad news situation. We re going to buy back 8 percent of our stock and, oh, by the way, our earnings are down 3 percent. The company is hopeful that the good news will outweigh the bad, and therefore the price impact will be neutral to positive.
BusinessWeek, Taking Stock of Themselves, by Debra Sparks in New York, May 21, 2001
PART 1
Research
TABLE
Stock Buybacks*
Price 4 months Later $42.76 7.69 84.77 16.96 29.65 38.79
Date 11/12/03 11/11/03 11/10/03 10/29/03 10/15/03 10/9/03
Symbol MGG BEV MMM ODP FCX WTW
Company MGM MIRAGE Beverly Enterprises 3M Office Depot Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Weight Watchers
Est. Buyback 10M shares $20M Up to $1.5B $50M 20M shares $250
Price Then $35.02 7.25 78.84 15.17 37.19 38.49
*Source: RealTimeTraders.com
The good news/bad news technique is often used, even by some of the larger corporations. It can be quite effective. As can be seen in Table 3-2, it s not just small companies megacorporations like 3M, MGM Mirage, and Beverly Enterprises are buying back shares. The price of 3M Company rose to $85.25 a share by the end of the year.
DOES IT SHOW CONFIDENCE
Sometimes companies will boldly announce their buyback intention with the statement that the stock has investment value at the current price. But considering the price impact of all that good publicity, one wonders. Is the announcement just more window dressing, or is the company sincere Short-term speculators have a great time with stock buyback announcements. To have a price rise several percentage points in just a few days is one of their dream selections. In fact, this is good for the speculators in the short term but not necessarily helpful to investors in the long term. So what s the problem Are companies dumb enough to pay prices that are actually too high Peter Russ seems to think so. The following comments on stock buybacks are from U.S. News & World Report:
The hitch. What could be wrong with this picture Simply this: Many companies shares are selling at or near record prices and may not be worth buying by anyone. Many analysts calculate a company s intrinsic value based on business potential rather than on the actions of excited buyers. When companies buy
Good Companies Buy Their Own Stock
their own shares at or below the intrinsic value, they effectively create added value for the other shareholders. When they buy significantly higher than intrinsic value, they push the price up temporarily, but the value has to catch up in support. Paying that high price can cause problems.
But the minute that you start paying a premium to buy back your stock, says Russ, you are probably destroying value using company money in a way that s not going to earn a great rate of return. 2
SHOULD WE BE WARY TODAY
It s always good to be wary about the stock market. Historically, companies with too much money would either expand or return some money to shareholders in the form of dividends. The problem with dividends is that they are taxed. In fact, they are taxed twice, first as corporate income and second as investor dividends. Therefore, dividends aren t as popular as they once were. Companies still like to show growth. They like to announce the opening of 200 additional retail outlets or the opening of a new plant to employ 2,000 workers. It s the kind of publicity that creates a warm feeling in the company s investors and customers. But what does it mean when the company is not expanding and is buying back its own shares Don t they have anything better to do with the money Have they run out of ideas If they really think the company is undervalued, shouldn t they be investing the money in preparation for the new growth These are real concerns the long-term shareholder and potential stock buyer should have. Stock buybacks don t necessarily add significant value to a company s stock. The P/E ratios are too high and companies have too much cash, the cash being the reason they re willing to overpay. There s less risk in buying back their own shares than in new corporate growth, or at least less risk in how the actions are perceived by investors.
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