U.S. stock buybacks head for record in third quarter

Total U.S. corporate stock buybacks are on track to hit a record for the third quarter as the U.S. economy bounced back from the global pandemic and chief executives became less fearful of spending cash.

S&P 500 companies in recent weeks have disclosed buybacks totaling $145 billion for the third quarter, and the total is likely to surpass $224 billion by the time all reports are in, Howard Silverblatt, senior index analyst at S&P Dow Jones Indices, said on Tuesday.

That would be above the $223 billion in buybacks recorded in the fourth quarter of 2018, which was a record, he said.

Share repurchases are seen as supportive for stocks in general. They decrease the number of a company’s shares outstanding, boosting per share earnings and driving down the price-to-earnings ratio, a key valuation benchmark.

Still, stock prices have gone up, and that’s impacting the number of shares companies can buy back, Silverblatt said.

The S&P 500 (.SPX), which hit a record high on Tuesday, is up about 23% for the year to date.

Strategists expect companies will continue to spend high levels of cash in 2022, a trend that should help to support stocks.

Goldman Sachs strategists wrote in a recent note that cash balances have surged in the last 12 months, and they are projecting S&P 500 buybacks to grow by 8% in 2022 after 50% growth in 2021.

Among recent big announcements, Exxon Mobil (XOM.N) last Friday vowed to revive its long-dormant share repurchase program next year.