Companies Use Tax Cut Savings to Buy Their Own Shares – The New York Times

Gee…I didn’t see this coming….    Companies Use Tax Cut Savings to Buy Their Own Shares

By MATT PHILLIPS

FEB. 26, 2018

 

President Trump promised that his tax cut would encourage companies to invest in factories, workers and wages, setting off a spending spree that would reinvigorate the American economy.

 

Companies have announced plans for some of those investments. But so far, companies are using much of the money for something with a more narrow benefit: buying their own shares.

 

Those so-called buybacks are good for shareholders, including the senior executives who tend to be big owners of their companies’ stock. A company purchasing its own shares is a time-tested way to bolster its stock price.

 

But the purchases can come at the expense of investments in things like hiring, research and development and building new plants — the sort of investments that directly help the overall economy. The buybacks are also most likely to worsen economic inequality because the benefits of stocks purchases flow disproportionately to the richest Americans.

 

The tax overhaul is the cornerstone of Mr. Trump’s economic plan. It has been a big win for companies, offering lower corporate rates and a permanent break on overseas profits. Warren E. Buffett said in his annual letter to investors on Saturday that his company, Berkshire Hathaway, enjoyed a $29 billion gain thanks to the new tax law.

 

What companies do with the trillions of dollars they’re bringing back to the United States, and the money they will save each year on their tax bills, will in large part determine whether the plan is a success or a failure.

 

As the tax cuts kick in, companies have laid out a variety of uses for the money. Some are paying out one-time bonuses to employees. Others are raising salaries. Others plan to open new factories.

 

In the fourth quarter, American companies’ investments in things like factories and business equipment grew by 6.8 percent. That was the fastest growth rate since 2014, but far from a giant the surge in capital spending that was promised ahead of the tax overhaul.

 

But the buying back shares is also at record levels.

 

Almost 100 American corporations have trumpeted such plans in the past month. American companies in the have announced more than $178 billion in planned buybacks — the largest amount unveiled in a single quarter, according to Birinyi Associates, a market research firm.

 

Such purchases reduce a company’s total number of outstanding shares, giving each remaining share a slightly bigger piece of the profit pie.

 

Cisco said this month that in response to the tax package, it would bring back to the United States $67 billion of overseas cash, using $25 billion to finance additional share repurchases. Alphabet, the parent company of Google, authorized up to $8.6 billion in stock purchases. PepsiCo announced a fresh $15 billion in planned buybacks. Chip gear maker Applied Materials disclosed plans for a $6 billion program to buy shares. Late last month, home improvement retailer Lowe’s unveiled plans for $5 billion in purchases.

 

On Monday, Mr. Buffett said on CNBC that Berkshire might be open to buy some of its shares. The remarks helped send Berkshire’s stock — and the broader market — higher.

 

More buybacks are almost certainly on the way. UBS analysts covering Apple said the iPhone maker might authorize another $30 billion in share purchases when it reports its next quarterly earnings in April. That would be on top of the $30 billion it already spends each year to buy back its shares.

 

“I’m expecting buybacks to get to a record for 2018,” said Howard Silverblatt, a senior index analyst with S.&P. Dow Jones Indices. “And if I’m disappointed, there’s a lot of people with me.”

Photo

Cisco said it may spend as much as $25 billion for additional share repurchases. Credit Sergio Perez/Reuters

 

The flurry of planned buybacks has been good for the stock market. Early this month, stocks were down more than 10 percent from their January peak. The prospect of companies flooding markets with “buy” orders helped the market recoup some of its losses.

 

The broader impact on the economy is less clear. Economists believe a rising stock market benefits the economy, helping support consumer and business confidence. But the vast majority of the billions of dollars in planned share purchases will benefit the richest 10 percent of American households, who own 84 percent of all stocks. The top 1 percent of households own about 40 percent of all stocks.

 

Ultimately, the effect of the rising stock market depends on how those wealthy investors use their windfall. It helps the economy more, for example, if they put the money toward a productive new companies than if they invest in government bonds.

 

Companies typically decide to make long-term investments in things like new workers and factories based on whether they will make the company more profitable — not merely because the companies are sitting on a pile of money that they otherwise would have paid in taxes.

 

At a news conference Thursday, the head of the White House’s Council of Economic Advisers, Kevin Hassett, acknowledged that many companies were spending their money on buying their own shares.

 

“Right now we’re going to have an adjustment where you see probably more dividends and share buybacks than wage increases,” Mr. Hassett said. “But going forward we’re going to see a lot of capital formation and wage growth.”

 

That is not what happened in 2005, when a one-time tax holiday allowed companies to repatriate money on the cheap. That plan, championed by President George W. Bush, was sold as a way to get American companies to invest more in the domestic economy.

 

Some $300 billion came back to the United States that year. But economists estimated that as much as 92 percent of it may have been paid out to companies’ shareholders — mostly in the form of buybacks.

 

Studies have shown that the tax change lifted companies’ stock prices but did not expand their American work forces.

 

Until the early 1980s, the practice of buying shares with corporate money was considered borderline illegal because it was thought to potentially open the company up to charges of manipulating share prices.

 

But in 1982 the Securities and Exchange Commission adopted a rule that gave the green light to most share repurchases, as long as they followed certain rules.

 

Historically, American companies had paid out profits with a quarterly check, known as a dividend. But after the S.E.C.’s rule change, companies started using more of their profits to buy their own shares, in the process giving their shareholders a bigger piece of the company.

 

Buybacks soon soared. By 2016, the most recent year for which there is complete data, companies spent $536 billion on purchasing their own shares, according to data from S. & P. Dow Jones Indices.

 

That was about 5 percent less than those companies spent on new plants, research and development and other investments. By contrast, 20 years ago, companies spent four times as much on such investments as they did on buybacks.

 

Some economists think the surge in share buybacks has something to do with the relative decline in capital investments, which recently have been lower than expected.

 

“We have some causal evidence that because of short-termism companies are doing some stock repurchases that maybe they shouldn’t do,” said Heitor Almeida, a professor of corporate finance at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “And maybe that’s causing them to reduce investment.”

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“Clean Coal” Refinery – Hah!

This is depressing.  I that thought that “clean coal”  was commercially non-viable because of the costs to scrub the noxious gases and particulates from the combustion product.  Here’s a new perspective.  “Clean coal” in this instance means removing impurities from waste coal before it is burned.  The combustion products from the coal itself are presumably unaffected.   Cleaning the coal before combustion enables the mines to use waste coal that would have been uneconomic in current plants.  “It just makes sense to further remove the impurities from coal before burning it,” OMNIS Chairman Simon Hodson said in a statement. “This is truly clean coal production in our view.” And they get a $50 million grant from a new program announced last month by the US Dept. of Energy.

http://www.utilitydive.com/news/clean-coal-production-facility-slated-for-pennsylvania/504540/

CNX Coal Resources LP and OMNIS Bailey this week announced they will partner to develop “a first-of-a-kind solid energy refinery” that will process waste coal at CONSOL’s Bailey Mine Complex.

The Pennsylvania refinery will ultimately turn waste coal into a clean carbon fuel.

CNX said the project, which began as a pilot earlier this year, aims to generate a clean fuel that can be used to enhance the energy content and performance characteristics of its coal product.

The quest for “clean coal” continues, now by utilizing a process to remove impurities from waste coal that would have been discarded.

As Trump stresses ‘America First’, China plays the world leader

I find it hard to argue with this conclusion, but I didn’t see it coming.

” ‘If anyone were to say China is playing a leadership role in the world I would say it’s not China rushing to the front but rather the front runners have stepped back leaving the place to China,’ said Zhang Jun, director general of the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s international economics department.”

http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trump-china-analysis-idUSKBN1590KJ

Cry me a river: Louisiana residents without flood insurance face uncertainty

Those residents without flood insurance are eligible for up to $33,000 in FEMA individual disaster assistance funds, although most will likely receive less than that, based on payments following other major disasters.

It’s not clear to me why the government should subsidize home owners who choose not to get flood insurance.  They’re home owners.  What about tax payers who don’t own homes? Why should they subsidize home owners?

I think Jesus said it best.

For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. But the one who does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.”  Matthew 25:29

Source: Louisiana residents without flood insurance face uncertainty

The Puerto Rico crisis, explained – Vox

Here’s a great, timely summary of the financial problems in Puerto Rico.  It looks like things will get pretty messy before the US government steps in to bail-out the Puerto Rican government.  And who will benefit from the bail-out?  The holders of Puerto Rico’s bonds, of course.

Q. Who would be crazy enough to invest in Puerto Rican bonds?

A. “a high-income person living in a high-tax state”

I think the best term for describing this fiasco would be “the Puerto Rican Put”, anomalous to the Greenspan Put that led to the 2008 asset bubble in the U.S.  Investors were assured that Greenspan would keep interest rates low so they could invest in bonds without worrying about rising interest rates.  Another example would be the implicit (but not explicit) backing of FMHA bonds by the US government.   When the security behind the bonds (ie home mortgages) tanked the government bailed out the bond holders (not the home owners).  It’ll happen again in Puerto Rico.

“What’s this business about Puerto Rican bonds and taxes?All municipal bonds are exempt from federal income taxes. In additional, if you buy municipal bonds issued by the place where you live, those bonds are exempt from state and local income taxes as well. Such bonds are known as triple tax exempt, and they’re a big deal for municipal finance and high tax places like New York and California. But Puerto Rico’s bonds are triple tax exempt regardless of where you live.This is not a huge deal for most Americans, but for a high-income person living in a high-tax state it can be a very big deal and it helped fuel a lot of lending to Puerto Rico that wasn’t necessarily thought through in a very serious way.”

via The Puerto Rico crisis, explained – Vox.

Hotel Euro Union – Eric Reguly in the G&M

U-turn of the euro could be an exit threat after Greece – The Globe and Mail.

“Roach Motel”?  I think columnist Reguly meant “Hotel California”:  Call it the Hotel Euro Union.

The beckoning lady with the Mercedes Benz and the pretty boys she calls friends invite the stranger to stay for the night. Such a lovely place. He ignores the voices down the corridor…This could be heaven or this could hell.
You can check-out any time you like, but you can never leave.
What a nice surprise.  Bring your alibis.

Change of heart re: Greece

A couple of weeks I ago I thought the Greeks deserved the catastrophe that is approaching them. After all, they’ve brought it upon themselves through decades of living beyond their means and electing irresponsible leaders.

Now that it’s time to settle the accounts, I think the terms that the Germans and French are demanding are too strict; they’re trying to save the Euro and correct decades of mismanagement (in Greece) with some gut-wrenching strictures.

My main concern is with the human suffering that the strictures or Grexit will impose. The EU, the Brits, the US, and Canada should get read to help Greek civilians get access to food and medicine.  They won’t be able to afford enough of either if they have to pay with drachmas.

My secondary concern is the potential for civil war/military coup. Human suffering will dramatically increase political unrest and encourage the Colonels and the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party.

My tertiary concern is that if the West doesn’t step in to help the Greeks the Russians will, gladly, in return for cooperation on defense (naval bases) and energy programs (pipelines).