Buybacks vs. Backlash

Cash may be king, but over the long post-2008 recovery, liquid capital on balance sheets has swelled to the point that corporations and their boards feel serious pressure from markets and shareholders over what to do with it. In the fourth quarter of 2015, non-financial S&P 500 companies reported cash holdings — including short-term investments — totaling $1.77 trillion, the highest quarterly level in 10 years. Since the beginning of 2009, when S&P 500 companies reported cash stockpiles of about $750 billion, that figure has more than doubled. These cash holdings were widely dispersed on both a company and on an industry level. While the companies that comprise the S&P 500 Industrials Index led the way with a combined $13.2 billion surplus, sectors as diverse as healthcare ($5.3 billion), telecom ($4.5 billion) and energy ($3.9 billion) all face the same problem: what to do with the excess cash on their balance sheets?

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