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Titanic Stock Bubble Fueled by Buyback Blitz

The Rich Get Richer

by MIKE WHITNEY

Why are stocks still flying-high when the smart money has fled overseas and the US economy has ground to a halt?

According to Marketwatch:

“For the eighth week in a row, long-term mutual funds saw more money flowing out of U.S. stocks and into international stocks, according to the Investment Company Institute……For the week ended April 22, U.S. stocks saw $3.4 billion in net outflows from long-term mutual funds…For the year to date, net outflows for U.S. stocks are $13.79 billion, while inflows for international stocks are $41.12 billion.

Those figures, however, don’t count exchange-traded funds. In April alone, mutual funds and ETFs that focus on international stocks saw $31.8 billion in net inflows, while U.S.-focused funds and ETFs shed $15.4 billion, according to TrimTabs Investment Research.” (“Why U.S. stocks are near highs even as fund investors flee“, Marketwatch)

So if retail investors are moving their cash to Europe and Japan (to take advantage of QE), and the US economy is dead-in-the-water, (First Quarter GDP checked in at an abysmal 0.1 percent) then why are stocks still just two percent off their peak?

Answer: Stock buybacks.

The Fed’s uber-accommodative monetary policy has created an environment in which corporate bosses can borrow boatloads of money at historic low rates in the bond market which they then use to purchase their own company’s shares.  When a company reduces the number of outstanding shares on the market, stock prices move higher which provides lavish rewards for both management and shareholders.  Of course, goosing prices adds nothing to the company’s overall productivity or growth prospects, in fact, it undermines future earnings by adding more red ink to the balance sheet. But these “negatives” are never factored into the decision-making which focuses exclusively on short-term profits. Now get a load of this from Morgan Stanley via Zero Hedge:

 “In 2014, the constituents of the S&P 500 on a net basis bought back ~$430Bn worth of common stock and spent a further ~$375Bn on dividend payouts. The total capital returned to shareholders was only slightly less than the annual earnings reported. On the fixed income front, the investment grade corporate bond market saw a record $577Bn of net issuance in 2014. While the equity and bond universes don’t overlap 100%, we think these numbers convey a simple yet important story. US corporations have essentially been issuing record levels of debt and using a significant chunk of their earnings and cash reserves to buy back record levels of common stock.”  (“Buyback Bonanza, Margin Madness Behind US Equity Rally”, Zero Hedge)

So corporations are borrowing hundreds of billions of dollars from investors through the bond market. They’re using this cheap capital to repurchase shares in order to boost skyrocketing executive compensation and to line the pockets of their shareholders. At the same time, they are weakening the capital structure of the company by loading on more debt.  (It’s worth...

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