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Buybacks Breakout: buyback boost back?

  • Relative strength has been seen in the S&P 500 Buy Back Index

  • The index is heavy into financials and discretionary and comparatively light on staples, tech, and utilities

  • With the buyback blackout period winding down, companies will likely beef up stock repurchase activity which could help support stocks in the near-term

Corporate earnings season has come and gone. The daily noise of what’s happening at the company level along with macro takes from CEOs is in the rearview mirror for now. With the passage comes an end to the buyback blackout period. Generally, firms are restricted from repurchasing their shares for two weeks before the end of a quarter and for 48 hours after releasing earnings. Some research suggests, however, that buyback blackout periods do not negatively impact stock performance.

The bullish narrative now is that there will be a surge in stock demand considering companies have plenty of balance sheet liquidity and share prices are quite a bit lower from just a month or two ago.

Relative Strength in Buyback Stocks

That could be the case, but it’s not an argument that warrants a significant asset allocation shift for investors, in our opinion. What’s interesting, however, is that there has been a pickup in relative strength among buyback stocks. According to S&P Global, The S&P 500 Buyback Index is designed to measure the performance of the top 100 stocks with the highest buyback ratios in the S&P 500 Index. Relative to the S&P 500, the buyback index is inching higher.

Share Repurchases Ticking Up

Moreover, according to BofA, buybacks by corporate clients accelerated to the highest level since January last week. The pick-up follows tepid trends for most of this earnings season, said BofA analysts. This near-term trend, along with some short-term technical support in stocks, could lead to a bear market rally. Still, we remain bearish on global equities for the balance of the year.

Featured Chart: Relative Strength in the S&P 500 Buy Back Index

chart of buyback stock index relative performance technical analysis signals market breakout

How Investors Can Play It

Investors in search of a tactical play on buybacks can look to the Invesco BuyBack Achievers ETF (PKW). The fund bounced big off its low last week. Helping the index of late, not so much the ETF, has been an underperformance in tech stocks and not-so-horrid returns in financials and banks. The S&P 500 Buyback Index is 30% financials, 21% discretionary, and just 14% tech. You won’t find much defensive exposure, though, since staples and utilities sum to just 2% of the index.

The Bottom Line

While we remain bearish on risky assets, the S&P 500 Buy Back Index is one to watch for continued relative strength. The media will probably put a spotlight on firms engaging in shareholder-friendly actions, like stock repurchases, in the coming weeks now that earnings season is over and stocks are down. We don’t think buybacks will put an end to the current market downturn, but bears should be aware of single-stock upside catalysts from share repurchase announcements.

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