Roughly one month ago, online travel provider
Priceline.com (Nasdaq: PCLN)
made a nice gesture toward shareholders, announcing plans to buy
back $200 million worth of company stock. Investors should hope
that the company doesn't follow through on this plan, becauseshares
have shot up roughly $120 since the March 7 announcement to a lofty
This means Priceline will buy back fewer
than the month-ago announcement would imply. Priceline would be
better off canceling that buyback plan, perhaps waiting for a major
pullback before putting a buyback plan into motion.
Sadly, Priceline.com has plenty of company.
I went back and looked at every stock buyback announcement since
October 2011, and in most instances, the current share price is
solidly higher than when the buyback plan was first announced. As
I've noted in the past, buying back stock while it trades at
multi-year highs has proven to be a big waste of shareholder money.
Instead, it's wiser to look at stocks that have fallen since the
buyback was announced. The lower share price is clearly good news,
because the share count can be reduced that much more quickly with
a fixed amount of funds.
To be sure, buybacks create a solid backstop for nervous investors.
State Street (
have all announced buybacks in the past 30 days, and if the
swoons in coming weeks, then these buyback plans should provide
buying support as the companies buy back stock that investors are
selling. Thanks to the recent market pullback, all of these stocks
are only modestly lower than when the share buyback was announced.
If you go further back, then you can find several stocks trading
well below levels when a buyback was initially announced. Here are
some interesting ones to consider...
1. Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan (POT)
This fertilizer producer had to regroup in late 2010 after the
Canadian government blocked a takeover by mining giant BHP Billiton
(BHP). Potash was fine with that decision anyway, noting that BHP's
of $130 a share (or $43 a share) was "grossly inadequate."
Shares of Potash moved past $60 in early 2011 as investors came to
agree that the stock was quite undervalued. In support of the
stock, Potash began buying back $2 billion worth of stock. That
buyback is now going a lot further now that Potash's shares are
Part of the share-price weakness steams from a fairly weak
fourth-quarter. A drop in fertilizer demand led the company to
forecasts by roughly 10%. Analysts quickly slashed their profit
forecasts for the first and second quarters of 2012 as well, but
the current $0.65
earnings per share (EPS)
consensus now looks too low.
That's because farmers have set very aggressive planting targets
this spring and appear to be restocking their fertilizer supplies a
fast clip. Goldman Sachs expects "...a strong U.S. spring
application season will be a positive driver for shares as robust
farmer demand coupled with production cuts help draw down the
With shares trading near BHP's lowball offer, Potash appears to
offer solid downside support. That massive stock buyback could
bolster per share profits by shrinking the share count.
2. Cypress Semiconductor (CY)
Roughly a year ago, I noted that Cypress Semiconductor was seeing
decent business momentum, as its shares were under-girded by a
But about a month ago, Cypress warned business had slowed a bit,
slashing first-quarter sales guidance from about $205 million to
roughly $185 million. That pushed shares down to a recent $14.30,
well below the upper-teens level where the company's share buyback
was announced in early 2011. Yet even as Cypress warned of a
first-quarter shortfall, management noted that business appeared to
be bottoming out and predicted that subsequent quarters would look
In the fourth quarter of 2011, Cypress bought back roughly 10
million shares. The company still has $319 million left on the
current share buyback plan, which would sop up more than 20 million
additional shares. The recent swoon likely means Cypress has been
an active buyer of its own stock in recent weeks. Nearly 10% of
have been bought back during the past 15 months, and by the time
the current plan is done, that figure could approach 30%, which
will have a commensurately positive effect when business bounces
[block:block=16]Analysts at Dougherty & Co. say the worst is
over and expect a "[second-half] ramp and continued momentum into
2013 off new products." They have a $20
in place, though investors may wish against that in the near-term
so Cypress can buy back more shares while they trade near lows.
Risks to Consider:
Stock buyback plans don't stop shares from falling, but they
likely slow the decline a bit.
Action to Take -->
These are the kinds of stocks you want to own if the market gets
hit by a wave of profit-taking this
. Companies that have recently announced buyback plans may move
back into favor if and when this happens. Many of these companies
will provide progress reports on their current share buyback
efforts, so it pays to see how much the share count is falling in
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-- David Sterman
David Sterman does not personally hold positions in any
securities mentioned in this article. StreetAuthority LLC owns
shares of BHP in one or more if its "real money" portfolios.
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