Taking these claims in order, the senators hold that share buybacks don’t benefit the vast majority of Americans.
When a stock buyback occurs, a company chooses to use its excess cash to repurchase a predeteremined amount of its own stock. Repurchased shares are absorbed by the company, and the number of outstanding shares on the market is reduced. That has the effect of enriching those who’d then own a relatively larger slice of a company by making each share more valuable.
Even armed with statistics from Goldman Sachs it’s not difficult to see how this could widen the income gap between the nation’s richest and poorest households.
Source: Congressional Budget Office
“It is indeed true that stock ownership has become more concentrated,” Goldman’s chief economist, Jan Hatzius, wrote last month. The wealthiest 0.1 percent and 1 percent of households now own about 17 percent and 50 percent of total household equities, respectively, up significantly from 13 percent and 39 percent in the late 1980s.
“Over the past several decades, corporate boardrooms have become obsessed with maximizing only shareholder earnings to the detriment of workers and the long-term strength of their companies, helping to create the worst level of income inequality in decades,” the senators wrote.
According to the most recent Census data, the bottom 20 percent of households earned 3.5 percent of the nation’s income while the richest 5 percent kept 21.8 percent of the pie, down from 22.8 percent in 2016. Households in the lowest quintile had incomes of $24,638 or less in 2017, while the top 5 percent of households in the income distribution had incomes of $237,035 or more.
Others, such as Stanford Law Professor Laurie Hodrick, challenge that opinion and argue that the more socially prosperous thing to do is to return residual monies to investors in the form of buybacks and dividends. Such a move would ensure the healthiest companies have access to the capital they need to grow their business and maximize employment, she said.
“The irony is that the thing to boost economic well-being in the long term would be to channel the capital to where it will contribute most to long-term prosperity,” Hodrick said Tuesday. “If you really want a long-term, robust economy that will hire and pay workers, the best way to do that is reallocate cash to investors.”
Corporations have been on a hiring binge lately with robust nonfarm payroll gains in the past 12 months. The unemployment rate ticked higher to 4 percent in January and more Americans re-enter the workforce. On a year-over-year basis average hourly earnings rose 3.2 percent, consistent with the past few months and around the highest levels of the recovery.