Share Buybacks: The Other Dividend

Head of Equity Strategy
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You have a business, and your cash on hand is growing. What do you do? If you park it in T-bills, the income generated will probably be negligible. You believe it’s time to move it off the balance sheet either as a dividend, which is often a taxable event, or by repurchasing shares, where taxes can be more easily managed (some shareholders will opt to sell, while others can sit tight).


Look at this writ large: Share buybacks have become the other dividend. According to Qing Li at S&P Dow Jones Indices, S&P 500 Index companies purchased $806 billion worth of shares last year (figure 1). For context, the total value of the S&P is $26 trillion.


Figure 1: S&P 500 Buyback Trends

Figure 1_SP 500 Buyback Trends


Figure 2 shows the logic using a hypothetical business worth $1,000 with $200 in cash. Say it only needs half the cash to operate. If management buys back stock, look what happens to earnings per share and return on equity (ROE). This isn’t rocket science, but on paper, the management looks like a bunch of geniuses. 


Figure 2: Implementing a $100 Buyback

Figure 2_Implementing a 100 Buyback


Some firms1 opt to do the opposite, issuing shares to raise money because they are growing or, troublingly, because business is down. At latest count, the S&P 500’s net buyback yield is 2.7%, found by netting out issuances from the volume of buybacks.  Add the 1.9% dividend yield and the sum is the 4.6% shareholder yield.


Figure 3 breaks out by shareholder yield the 10-year equity returns for the major asset classes. The groups generally show green on the top and red on the bottom. The lone exception is U.S. large caps, where net equity issuers and non-payers got the better of fundamental value seekers. Time will tell if this can last.


Figure 3: 10-Year Performance by Shareholder Yield Quintiles

Figure 3_10-Year Performance by Shareholder Yield Quintiles


Our ETF that targets heavy ownership of companies in the high quintiles is the WisdomTree U.S. Quality Shareholder Yield Fund (QSY). Judging by the location of the red ink in the table above, I’m heartened that we only have 1.5% of the ETF’s capital in the two "danger" quintiles.


Figure 4: Proportions of QSY in Each Quintile

Figure 4_Proportions of QSY in Each Quintile


Figure 5 shows the fundamentals for QSY. I also added the WisdomTree U.S. Quality Dividend Growth ETF (DGRW) in the second column for the reader’s edification because it is one of our largest funds by assets under management, and it also has a shareholder yield that exceeds that of the broad market.


Figure 5: Fundamental Metrics

Figure 5_Fundamental Metrics QSY and DGRW


For standardized performance of the Funds mentioned in the chart, please click their respective tickers: QSY, DGRW.

For definitions of terms in the chart, please visit our glossary.


Unless otherwise stated, all data from Bloomberg, as of 9/12/19.




1Source: WisdomTree, as of 8/30/19.

Important Risks Related to this Article

There are risks associated with investing, including possible loss of principal. Funds focusing their investments on certain sectors increase their vulnerability to any single economic or regulatory development. This may result in greater share price volatility. While QSY is actively managed, the Fund’s investment process is expected to be heavily dependent on quantitative models, and the models may not perform as intended. Please read each Fund’s prospectus for specific details regarding the Fund’s risk profile.

For more investing insights, check out our Economic & Market Outlook


About the Contributor
Head of Equity Strategy
Follow Jeff Weniger
Jeff Weniger, CFA serves as Head of Equity Strategy at WisdomTree. In his role, Weniger helps to formulate the firm’s stock market outlook by assessing macro and fundamental trends. Prior to joining WisdomTree, he was Director, Senior Strategist at BMO, where he worked in the office of the CIO from 2006 to 2017. He served on the firm’s Asset Allocation Committee and co-managed the firm’s ETF model portfolios for both the U.S. and Canada. In 2013, at the age of 32, Jeff was chosen as the youngest member of BMO’s Global Investment Forum, which collected the firm’s top global strategists to formulate the firm’s official long-term outlook for investment trends and markets. Jeff has a B.S. in Finance from the University of Florida and an MBA from Notre Dame. He has been a CFA charterholder and a member of the CFA Society of Chicago since 2006. He has appeared in various financial publications such as Barron’s and the Wall Street Journal and makes regular appearances on Canada’s Business News Network (BNN) and Wharton Business Radio.