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Ever since I graduated business school – which was a long time ago – I’ve been having discussions and arguments as to whether or not share buybacks (SBB) create value. Despite the fact that many impartial studies have demonstrated and many mathematical proofs have been proffered that SBB don’t create value, astonishingly people continue to emphatically argue that SBB create value. This is not to say that SBB cannot be used to return truly unused capital back to shareholders, but we believe that SBB should be an action of last resort. Regardless, the conclusion: SBB cannot and, therefore, do not create shareholder value.
Even CEOs and CFOs of many companies can’t seem to bring themselves to stop SBB despite all of the evidence that companies cannot create value by buying back their own shares. And, even when it is demonstrated to these managements that there are far better ways to utilize the cash, managements still have reservations about ending their SBB program.
Therefore, I’m hoping that I can end this resistance to ending SBB through this editorial tutorial. The following lists arguments that we’ve encountered for why SBB create value for shareholders:
1) The P/E argument: SBB reduce share count, which increases EPS, and given the same multiple, the stock price must go up;
2) Investing in the company’s own stock creates value for shareholders: Companies can buy their stock at a low price and sell it at a higher price, which creates value;
3) Higher ROE means higher valuation: By reducing the amount of equity on the balance sheet, this raises the ROE on the returns from company projects, for which investors give the stock a higher valuation; and
4) Excess cash returned: This point is about returning excess cash to investors not about shareholder value.