Over the past few years at StreetAuthority, we've been
chronicling the remarkable pace of share buybacks. So many
companies are buying back $500 million or even $1 billion instock
that this trend has become one of the most powerful themes of the
The collective result of all of those individual corporate
actions is simply staggering.Analysts at J.P. Morgan report that
a hefty $455 billion inshares has been reacquired by companies in
the Russell 1000 in the 12 months ended June 30. That's a 32%
increase from the prior 12-month period.
In fact, if you go back to the start of 2009, companies have
reacquired $1.4 trillion of their stock. That "far exceeds the
netequity withdrawals by investors," noted J.P. Morgan's
analysts. In effect, these analysts have concluded that in the
absence of buybacks, this stunningmarket rally would never have
What can you expect in the years ahead? Many more buybacks.
Companies remain loath to pursue acquisitions, even with huge
amounts ofcash parked on their balance sheets. So an increasing
amount of annualcash flow is heading towards buybacks (and
Yet with the major market averages now up so sharply since the
start of 2009, should investors look at buybacks as a wise use of
corporatecapital ? The sage response: You can't time the market.
The market tends to rise over time, and if companies wait for the
moment that their stock pulls back sharply to lower levels...
well, that day may never arrive.
As noted, JP Morgan analysts suggest that the sharply reduced
amount of shares trading hands explains thisbull market . After
all, share prices are affected by supply and demand, and a
reduced supply of stock pushes up prices, according to economic
Yet there's another, more obvious reason why buybacks boost
share prices: the impact onearnings per share (
) . The percentage of shares that are being bought backwill boost
per share profits by that exact same percentage (offsettingstock
option grants notwithstanding). Simplyput , a steady series of
buybacks can help a slow-growing company deliver the kind ofEPS
growth that is usually reserved for faster-growing companies.
Take do-it-yourself home retailer
Home Depot (
as an example. Since 2004, its shares count has fallen more than
30%, to 1.5 billion. The company earned $3.10 a share in its
fiscal 2013 -- but were it not for that massive stock buyback
program, per-share profits would have been 30% lower.
We periodically highlight companies that are pursuing massive
stock buybacks, most recently last month.
But there is an even more direct way to benefit from the
trend: buyback-focused exchange-tradedfunds (ETFs ). Let's take a
|1. PowerShares Buyback Achievers (NYSE:PKW )
Thisfund is quite picky, loading up only on shares of
companies that have already purchased at least 5% of
theirshares outstanding over the past 12 months. The
approach is a bit curious.
You would presume that the best time to buy a stock is when
a buyback is announced, not after a program has been
underway for quite some time. This approach stems from the
fact that many companies announce huge buybacks plans --
but tend to use them tooffset lavish grants ofstock options
to executives. By waiting for confirmation of a reduced
share count, the risk of a smoke-and-mirrors buyback
announcement is eliminated.
Current top holdings include
Amgen (Nasdaq: AMGN)
, each of which accounts for roughly 5% of the portfolio.
The fact that fully one-third of the portfolio is made up
of consumer discretionarystocks highlights the robust pace
of buybacks in that sector. (Financials make up another 20%
and tech stocks make up another 16%.)
Despite the patient wait-and-see approach to executed
buyback plans, thisETF has racked up some solid numbers.
The PowerShares Buyback Achievers has outperformed the
S&P 500index on a one-, three- and five-yearbasis . The
15% annualized return over the past five years (which
includes the horrendous market action of late 2008 and
early 2009) makes this ETF one of the top-performing
domestic large-cap ETFs around. The 0.7%expense ratio is
reasonable in light of that robust performance.
|2. AdvisorShares TrimTabs Float Shrink ETF (NYSE:TTFS
You can understand whyinvestment research firm TrimTabs got
into this niche. The firm has been tracking fund flows for
nearly two decades on the belief that share prices rise and
fall directly as a result of the underlying supply and
demand for shares. Indeed, TrimTabs' "Liquidity Theory"
rests on two basic principles: "Increasing supply of stocks
can be abearish sign for stocks," and "increasing demand is
positive for stocks, except when flows become extremely
high as investors chase momentum."
Buybacks play a key role in that logic, cutting the supply
of shares while also boosting demand for them (as companies
take them off the hands of other investors to retire them).
This ETF was launched less than two years ago and hasn't
built up the long-term track record of the PowerShares
Buyback Achievers ETF. But the 68%gain since its October
2011 launch beats the S&P 500's 49% gain in that
The AdvisorShares TrimTabs Float Shrink ETF takes a
slightly novel approach, focusing only on those companies
that are buying stock out offree cash flow , and not
It's debatable whether this approach reduces risk (as is
intended), as companies that seek toissue debt to buy back
stock typically have strong cash flow characteristics
anyway. The judicious use of debt can help boost profits,
and the only time such firms are imperiled is when
theeconomy slumps badly.
As a result, this is likely the safer ETF in a bleak
economy. This ETF also does a better job of avoiding
portfolio concentration. For example, top holding
Las Vegas Sands (
, accounts for just 1.13% of its assets. The 0.99% expense
ratio is a bit stiff.
Risks to Consider:
These are bull-market ETFs. The PowerShares Buyback Achievers
ETF slumped badly in late 2008 and early 2009, and the TrimTabs
would likely also fare poorly in a falling market.
Action To Take -->
The distinct approaches taken by these ETF providers each has
real merit. Yet neither is ideal. It's a shame that the
PowerShares fund decides to wait a full 12 months before snapping
up shares of holdings, and the TrimTabs ETF's focus on
cash-flow-fueled buybacks shrinks its potential universe. But
both of these ETFs appear built to deliver solidgains as long as
the buyback frenzy continues.
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