Corporate share repurchases have turned out to be a great mechanism for converting Federal Reserve easing into higher consumer spending. Just allow public companies to borrow really cheaply and one of the things they do with the resulting found money is repurchase their stock. This pushes up equity prices, making investors feel richer and more willing to splurge on the kinds of frivolous stuff (new cars, big houses, extravagant vacations) that produce rising GDP numbers.
For politicians and their bureaucrats this is a win-win. But for the rest of us it’s not, since the debts corporations take on to buy their own stock at market peaks tend to hobble them going forward, leading eventually to bigger share price declines than would otherwise be the case.
The ultimate loser? The only people traditionally willing to buy in after corporations are finished overpaying for their stock: Retail investors, of course.
Let’s see how it’s playing out this time.
First, corporations spent several years elevating stock prices with share repurchases. Note the near perfect correlation between the two lines: