These 3 Companies are Buying Back BILLIONS of Their Own Stock

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It's an open secret that Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT ) can't seem to find meaningful growth opportunities. The massive retailer's sales grew just 1% in fiscal (January) 2010, 3% in fiscal 2011 and will be hard-pressed to grow much more in fiscal 2011 and 2012. Tepid growth explains whyshares have been flat for more than a decade.

Yet if you go straight to thebottom line , you see a much better picture. Profits per share have been steadily rising, jumping another 12% in fiscal 2011, and are expected to rise nearly 10% in the current fiscal year . Massive share buybacks get the credit. The retailer has been absorbing huge chunks of its own stock, spending more than $23 billion in cumulative free cash flow in the past three years. [For a deeper look at Wal Mart's prodigious free cash flow, read this ]

Wal Mart is at it again. In the week of June 6, the company announced plans to buy back another $15 billion of its stock. The company's share count has already shrunk from 4.4 billion in fiscal 2003 to a recent 3.7 billion. This new buyback plan may take this figure down to 3.4 billion. Simply delivering flat sales andnet income will still boost Wal Mart's earnings per share ( EPS ) by roughly 8%. Toss in forecasts of moderate 3% to 5% sales growth and the commensurate operating leverage , andEPS may actually grow in the low teens; not bad for a company that has been shunned by Wall Street for a decade.

The decision to make ever larger buybacks makes clear sense. So many companies are flush with cash, but few have current organic growth prospects. Why not radically shrink the share count while shares are cheap? Here are a few other blue chip stocks seeking to use their bulletproof balance sheets to bolster per-share profits.

1. Aetna (NYSE: AET )
This health care insurer has been using cash flow to repurchase shares for a number of years.


 
In late May, Aetna announced plans to buy back another $750 million in stock, which partially explains why per share profits are expected to rise roughly 20% in 2011 even as sales are expected to remain flat.

2. Hasbro (NYSE: HAS )
This toy maker had nearly 200 million shares outstanding back in 2005 and a series of stock buybacks has pushed that figure below 140 million. Another $500 million share buyback announced in mid-May promises to drop the share count below 130 million. This is great timing because Hasbro has licensed key characters to serve as the basis for a number of upcoming movies, which is likely toyield solid high-margin revenue gains and boost the bottom line .

I profiled Hasbro a year ago . Shares have barely budged since then, even as per-share profits keep growing at a solid clip. Analysts expect EPS to grow about 15% in 2011 and again in 2012. Shares trade for a very reasonable 12 times projected 2012 profits.

3. Home Depot (NYSE: HD )
This do-it-yourself retailer may be the reigning champion of buybacks. The company bought back at least 50 million shares every year from 2002 through 2008, pulled back on buybacks in 2009 and 2010, and is back in the game with a fresh $1 billion buyback announced in late March.

This should help boost per-share profits about 14% to 15% in 2011 and 2012, even as the housing market and general consumer spending remain very weak. Presumably, per-share profit growth will keep rising in 2013 and beyond as the housing market and consumers finally spring back to life.

Action to Take --> In an ideal world, these companies would have been especially aggressive with buybacks a few years ago when the stock market andeconomy were slumping. Yet that's usually the time when chief financial officers (CFOs) like to hoard their cash. If the current market and economy continue to weaken, then these CFOs can at least take solace in the fact that any further drops in the stock price simply means more shares can be re-acquired.

That's precisely what's happening with Cisco Systems (Nasdaq: CSCO ) . The troubled tech titan announced a further $10 billion buyback in late November (after previous $72 billion in buybacks that began in 2001), with its shares trading around $19. The stock plunged from $24.50 to $20.50 in just one day (Nov. 11, 2010), creating a seeming bargain. The company announced the buyback plan about two weeks later and shares have since drifted down toward the $15 mark. This will allow Cisco to buy back even more stock with that $10 billion plan, but it highlights the risk of repurchasing shares before a bottom has truly been reached.


-- David Sterman


P.S. -- If you're looking for quality stocks with high yields, you should take a look at this one. It pays a 19.2% dividend yield. It borrows cheap, gets paid handsomely and then pockets the spread. You'll get the full story on this cash machine and others like it in this video.

Disclosure: Neither David Sterman nor StreetAuthority, LLC hold positions in any securities mentioned in this article.



The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The NASDAQ OMX Group, Inc.

© Copyright 2001-2010 StreetAuthority, LLC. All Rights Reserved.



This article appears in: Investing , Investing Ideas

Referenced Stocks: AET , CSCO , EPS , HAS

David Sterman

David Sterman

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