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Outside the Box: Misguided share buybacks are hollowing out companies’ balance sheets and will lead to even bigger stock-market trouble

A year ago, I wrote about the worrying increase in leverage among America’s blue chips caused by share repurchases (“Hollowed-out blue chips are the next subprime”). Today I want to return to the subject, because the travails of General Electric are a reliable signal of the trouble ahead for the large corporate sector of the U.S. economy.

GE GE, -2.24% was one of Wall Street’s major share buyback operators between 2015 and 2017; it repurchased $40 billion of shares at prices between $20 and $32. The share price is now $8.60, so the company has liquidated between $23 billion and $29 billion of its shareholders’ money on this utterly futile activity alone.

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