When IBM (IBM) raised its stock buyback authorization by $10 billion on Oct. 26, it became the 259th company to announce repurchase plans in October alone. And by the reckoning of analysts at Citigroup's Citi Investment Research, the long-term trend of rising share repurchases has only just begun.
Companies are sitting on a record $2 trillion in cash, and debt is cheap in today's low-interest-rate world, but companies were frenetically soaking up their own stock before the financial crisis interrupted two years ago. At its 2007 peak, companies bought back 5% of their market capitalization, according to Citi Investment Research. Today, that figure stands at just 1.5% -- but it's primed to grow again.
"Global markets equitized again in 2009 as a result of distressed equity issuance amongst the financials," wrote Citi analyst Michael Geraghty in a recent report to clients. "However, we suspect that this is temporary and de-equitization is coming back. Low equity valuations, surplus cash flows, and negligible cost of debt financing should spur a meaningful reduction in share counts."
Buybacks are great if you believe the company's stock price is too low. Earnings per share goes up as the number of shares outstanding goes down, for one thing, and it's good to know there's a ready buyer for a company's equity when many of its traditional shareholders, such as pension funds and small investors, are sellers, Geraghty notes.
To help investors take advantage of the share-buyback theme, Citi constructed a global portfolio of buy-rated companies that have consistently bought back their own equity over the past five years. Here are top 10 U.S. picks from that portfolio.