Companies in the S&P 500 are on pace to spend $500 billion this year on share buybacks, or about $125 billion a quarter, according to data from INTL FCStone. That is the least since 2012 and down from a quarterly average of $142 billion between 2014 and 2016.
Buyback activity among top-rated nonfinancial debt issuers, many of which have regularly borrowed money to finance share repurchases, declined for the third straight quarter in the July-to-September period, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch. Meanwhile, mergers and acquisitions among that group of companies had their biggest quarter of the year, analysts at the bank said.
Factors including high stock price, historically high share valuations and uncertainty over the future shape of the tax code mean that “companies may be less likely to favor buybacks over other uses of cash in 2018,” analysts at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. said in a report this week.
Costs aside, to get a sense of the economic impact from the two tax plans, BofA similarly models the two plans’ outcomes using the FRB/US macroeconomic model. The simulation results suggest under the House plan, the US would see a boost to aggregate demand as growth would be approximately 0.4pp higher relative to baseline in 2018 and 0.3pp higher in 2019. Better aggregate demand would reduce the unemployment rate by 0.3pp by 2019 and put upward pressure on inflation. These growth and price dynamics would lead the FOMC to raise rates an additional 1 to 2 hikes over the next two years. The economic impact from the Senate plan would be slightly more modest but in the same ballpark as the House plan. Under the Senate plan, the model predicts growth to be approximately 0.3pp higher in both 2018 and 2019 and similar dynamics for the unemployment rate and inflation as seen in the House plan, leading the FOMC to tighten quicker than the current baseline path.
There is also an “alternative” scenario where we a watered down version of the tax plan passes (i.e. modest tax cuts for middle-income households and a corporate tax cut near 25-28% that is deficit increasing by $600bn-$800bn on a static basis). Under the “alternative” scenario, we would see approximately half the economic impact that is seen under the House plan. Given that such a plan would likely only generate modest inflationary pressures, the Fed’s response likely would be relatively muted and it would likely stay on its baseline path.