- Twenty-one of the nation’s largest banks spent $152 billion on buybacks and dividends in the most recent year, analyst Dick Bove says.
- The money went mostly to people who wanted nothing to do with their banks (sold their stock back to the banks) and the banks received nothing in return.
- Investors, Bove says, are not attracted to companies that publicly state that they do not know what to do with their money and so they give the money away.
Approximately 21 of the nation’s largest banks have reported their earnings in the past two weeks. In aggregate, these 21 companies posted 2018 earnings of $154.6 billion. The common equity of these companies grew by a net $2.4 billion over the same time frame.
Implicit in these numbers is that these banks paid out $152.2 billion of their earnings to their shareholders in stock buybacks and dividends. It is believed that they did this because Boards of Directors and managements felt strongly that these payouts would increase the value of their stocks. Not only did this not happen from Dec. 30, 2017 to Jan. 23, 2019, but in every case, but one, the stocks also went down in price.
The only company where this did not happen was at a California bank, First Republic, that issued more stock and did not buy back anything from shareholders. That stock went up 10 percent in price.
The return on equity farce
In sum, banks, gave away $152.2 billion, mostly to people who wanted nothing to do with their banks (sold their stock back to the banks) and the banks received nothing in return. Bank managements argue that this is not so. They state, universally, that their returns on equity rose as a result of the stock buybacks. This argument is almost a farce.
Return on equity is just a number on a piece of paper that has nothing to do with cash. To calculate this number a bank divides its net income by its common equity. In the past, if the bank had a high return on equity one would argue that the bank’s growth rate would be high and its price earnings multiple should grow.
These arguments make no sense today. The reason is because the banks are, basically, not reinvesting any of the money they earned back into their businesses. Repeating out of $154.6 billion in earnings they reinvested $2.4 billion in their businesses. This plowback of earnings into the businesses was 0.2 percent.