Shareholders aren’t gaining from tax cuts as much as some think

Register now

Corporate America isn’t using the Trump tax cuts to gorge shareholders with stock buybacks and dividends — despite the prevailing narrative.

Yes, in dollar terms, spending by companies in the S&P 500 Index appears to be higher for buybacks and dividends. But a fairer way to look at it is to measure that spending as a ratio against companies’ market value. By that calculation, buybacks, while up this year, are still below several quarters during President Barack Obama’s administration. And dividends are actually down.

Stock buybacks set an all-time high in the second quarter in dollar terms. But as a percent of market value, the buybacks are still far below the post-financial crisis record of 1.12 percent in the third quarter of 2011.

Dividend yield, or dividends paid as a percent of total market cap, has remained mostly flat as seen above.

Profit margins jumped to record levels last quarter, topping previous highs set in 2014. While tax cuts have certainly helped companies’ bottom lines, the many tech companies in the S&P 500 Index has arguably been a bigger contributor to profit margins, according to Bloomberg Intelligence equity analyst Peter Chung.

Year-over-year capital expenditure growth was higher for the fourth consecutive quarter and is poised to be positive yet again for the three months ending Sept. 30. Of course, analyzing capex so soon after tax reform is complicated. Major investments often take years to plan.

As capex spending has picked up, cash piles shrunk for the first time since the end of 2015. Third quarter results are trending towards another decline, which would be the first time since 2006 that cash declined in two consecutive quarters.

Bloomberg News
Tax cuts Tax reform Trump tax plan Corporate taxes Investments