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The Controversy Around Stock Buybacks Explained

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The Controversy Around Stock Buybacks Explained

The Controversy Around Stock Buybacks Explained

At face value, the notion of companies buying back shares in their own stock may seem pretty benign.

But as soon as trillions of dollars are being poured into any single cause – regardless of how innocuous it may sound – there is always the potential to make a lightning rod for controversy.

With stock buybacks totaling $1.1 trillion in 2018, they’re at the center of discussion more than ever before.

What are Stock Buybacks?

When publicly-traded companies want to return money to shareholders, they generally have two options.

The first is to declare a dividend, but the other is to repurchase its own shares on the open market.

Although it seems meta, stock buybacks are a way for companies to re-invest in themselves. Each buyback decreases the amount of shares outstanding, with the company re-absorbing the portion of ownership that was previously distributed among investors.

In other words, buybacks are somewhat analogous to buying out a business partner – they allow the remaining partners to own a higher share of the company.

Pro vs. Con

With the amount of stock buybacks rising to historic highs, they have been front and center in 2019. Here are what proponents and opponents are arguing about.

Pro Case:
Proponents of buybacks say that if they are done rationally, buybacks (like dividends) are just another way to return cash to shareholders. Stock prices for companies that have bought back shares are also higher, in general, than other companies on major indices like the S&P 500.

Con Case:
Opponents of stock buybacks say that they increase inequality, and that executives make short-term oriented decisions around buybacks that allow them to maximize personal gain. In other words, when a company probably should be investing in its people or its business, the company is instead giving money back to the wealthy owners – and only they benefit.

The Bottom Line

While both sides make a compelling argument for different reasons, the only real way to evaluate stock buybacks is based on the merits of individual companies.

If the company is returning money to shareholders because it is the best allocation of capital, then it can make perfect sense. If the company is doing it at the expense of growing its business and the wages of employees, one can see why stock buybacks may rub people the wrong way.

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The Geography of the World’s 50 Top Billionaires

Where do the world’s top billionaires live, and how has this distribution changed over time? We take a look at the top 50 billionaires .

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The Geography of the World’s 50 Top Billionaires

The business world has undergone considerable change in the last two decades.

While some fortunes are always reliably passed on to their respective heirs and heiresses, there are also entirely new industries that rise out of nowhere to shape the landscape of global wealth.

As the wealth landscape shifts, so does its geographical distribution.

The 2019 List of Billionaires

Today’s chart uses data from the most recent edition of the Forbes Billionaires List to map the distribution of the world’s richest people, and then compare that to data from 20 years prior.

We’ll start here by looking at the most recent data from 2019:

RankNameNet Worth ($B)CitizenshipIndustry
#1Jeff Bezos131๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ USATech, eCommerce
#2Bill Gates96.5๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ USATech
#3Warren Buffett82.5๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ USAInvestments
#4Bernard Arnault76๐Ÿ‡ซ๐Ÿ‡ท FranceLuxury Goods, Cosmetics
#5Carlos Slim Helu64๐Ÿ‡ฒ๐Ÿ‡ฝ MexicoTelecommunications
#6Amancio Ortega62.7๐Ÿ‡ช๐Ÿ‡ธ SpainApparel
#7Larry Ellison62.5๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ USATech
#8Mark Zuckerberg62.3๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ USATech
#9Michael Bloomberg55.5๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ USAMedia
#10Larry Page50.8๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ USATech
#11Charles Koch50.5๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ USADiversified
#12David Koch50.5๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ USADiversified
#13Mukesh Ambani50๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡ณ IndiaOil & Gas, Telecoms
#14Sergey Brin49.8๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ USATech
#15Francoise Bettencourt49.3๐Ÿ‡ซ๐Ÿ‡ท FranceCosmetics
#16Jim Walton44.6๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ USARetail
#17Alice Walton44.4๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ USARetail, Art
#18Rob Walton44.3๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ USARetail
#19Steve Ballmer41.2๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ USATech
#20Ma Huateng (Pony)38.8๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ณ ChinaTech
#21Jack Ma37.3๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ณ ChinaTech, eCommerce
#22Hui Ka Yan36.2๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ณ ChinaReal Estate
#23Beate Heister & Karl Albrecht Jr.36.1๐Ÿ‡ฉ๐Ÿ‡ช GermanyRetail
#24Sheldon Adelson35.1๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ USACasinos
#25Michael Dell34.3๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ USATech
#26Phil Knight33.4๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ USAApparel
#27David Thomson32.5๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ฆ CanadaMedia
#28Li Ka-shing31.7๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ณ ChinaDeveloper
#29Lee Shau Kee30.1๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ณ ChinaDeveloper
#30Franรงois Pinault29.7๐Ÿ‡ซ๐Ÿ‡ท FranceLuxury Goods
#31Joseph Safra25.2๐Ÿ‡ง๐Ÿ‡ท BrazilDiversified
#32Leonid Mikhelson24๐Ÿ‡ท๐Ÿ‡บ RussiaOil & Gas
#33Jacqueline Mars23.4๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ USAFood
#34John Mars23.9๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ USAFood
#35Jorge Paulo Lemann22.8๐Ÿ‡ง๐Ÿ‡ท BrazilDiversified
#36Azim Premji22.6๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡ณ IndiaTech
#37Dieter Schwarz22.6๐Ÿ‡ฉ๐Ÿ‡ช GermanyRetail
#38Wang Jianlin22.6๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ณ ChinaReal Estate
#39Giovanni Ferrero22.4๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡น ItalyFood
#40Elon Musk22.4๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ USAAutomotive, Tech
#41Tadashi Yanai22.2๐Ÿ‡ฏ๐Ÿ‡ต JapanApparel
#42Yang Huiyan22.1๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ณ ChinaReal Estate
#43Masayoshi Son21.6๐Ÿ‡ฏ๐Ÿ‡ต JapanBanking, Investments
#44Jim Simons21.5๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ USAInvestments
#45Vladimir Lisin21.3๐Ÿ‡ท๐Ÿ‡บ RussiaSteel, Transportation
#46Susanne Klatten21๐Ÿ‡ฉ๐Ÿ‡ช GermanyAutomotive, Pharma
#47Vagit Alekperov20.7๐Ÿ‡ท๐Ÿ‡บ RussiaOil & Gas
#48Alexey Mordashov20.5๐Ÿ‡ท๐Ÿ‡บ RussiaSteel, Investments
#49Gennady Timchenko20.1๐Ÿ‡ท๐Ÿ‡บ RussiaOil & Gas
#50Leonardo Del Vecchio19.8๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡น ItalyEyewear

The most recent billionaires list features Jeff Bezos at the top with $131 billion, although it’s likely his recent divorce announcement will provide an upcoming shakeup to the Bezos Empire.

Bezos is just one of 21 Americans that find themselves in the top 50 list, which means that 42% of the world’s top billionaires hail from the United States.

Billionaire Geography Over Time

If we compare the top 50 list to that from 1999, it’s interesting to see what has changed over time in terms of geographical distribution.

Here’s the distribution of top countries on both lists, compared:

CitizenshipTop Billionaires (1999)Top Billionaires (2019)Change
๐Ÿ‡ท๐Ÿ‡บ Russia05+5
๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ณ China37+4
๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ United States1821+3
๐Ÿ‡ง๐Ÿ‡ท Brazil02+2
๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡ณ India02+2
๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡น Italy12+1
๐Ÿ‡ช๐Ÿ‡ธ Spain01+1
๐Ÿ‡ฒ๐Ÿ‡ฝ Mexico110
๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ฆ Canada110
๐Ÿ‡ง๐Ÿ‡ฒ Bermuda10-1
๐Ÿ‡ฏ๐Ÿ‡ต Japan32-1
๐Ÿ‡ซ๐Ÿ‡ท France53-2
๐Ÿ‡ธ๐Ÿ‡ฆ Saudi Arabia20-2
๐Ÿ‡น๐Ÿ‡ผ Taiwan20-2
๐Ÿ‡ธ๐Ÿ‡ช Sweden30-3
๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ญSwitzerland30-3
๐Ÿ‡ฉ๐Ÿ‡ช Germany73-4

In the last 20 years, Russia and China have stockpiled the most top billionaires, adding five and four to the top 50 list respectively. The United States added three, going from 18 to 21 billionaires over the timeframe.

On the other end of the spectrum, Germany, Sweden, and Switzerland have lost the most billionaires from the top 50 ranking.

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Chart of the Week

The Economies Adding the Most to Global Growth in 2019

Global economics is effectively a numbers game – here are the countries and regions projected to contribute the most to global growth in 2019.

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The Economies Adding the Most to Global Growth in 2019

Global economics is effectively a numbers game.

As long as the data adds up to economic expansion on a worldwide level, it’s easy to keep the status quo rolling. Companies can shift resources to the growing segments, and investors can put capital where it can go to work.

At the end of the day, growth cures everything – it’s only when it dries up that things get hairy.

Breaking Down Global Growth in 2019

Today’s chart uses data from Standard Chartered and the IMF to break down where economic growth is happening in 2019 using purchasing power parity (PPP) terms. Further, it also compares the share of the global GDP pie taken by key countries and regions over time.

Let’s start by looking at where global growth is forecasted to occur in 2019:

Country or RegionShare of Global GDP Growth (PPP) in 2019F
China33%
Other Asia (Excl. China/Japan)29%
United States11%
Middle East & North Africa4%
Euro Area4%
Latin America & Caribbean3%
Other Europe3%
Sub-Saharan Africa2%
Japan1%
United Kingdom1%
Canada1%
Rest of World8%

The data here mimics some of the previous estimates we’ve seen from Standard Chartered, such as this chart which projects the largest economies in 2030.

Asia as a whole will account for 63% of all global GDP growth (PPP) this year, with the lion’s share going to China. Countries like India and Indonesia will contribute to the “Other Asia” share, and Japan will only contribute 1% to the global growth total.

In terms of developed economies, the U.S. will lead the pack (11%) in contributing to global growth. Europe will add 8% between its various sub-regions, and Canada will add 1%.

Share of Global Economy Over Time

Based on the above projections, we were interested in taking a look at how each region or country’s share of global GDP (PPP) has changed over recent decades.

This time, we used IMF projections from its data mapper tool to loosely approximate the regions above, though there are some minor differences in how the data is organized.

Country or RegionShare of GDP (PPP, 1980)Share of GDP (PPP, 2019F)Change
Developing Asia8.9%34.1%+25.2 pp
European Union29.9%16.0%-13.9 pp
United States21.6%15.0%-6.6 pp
Latin America & Caribbean12.2%7.4%-4.8 pp
Middle East & North Africa8.6%6.5%-2.1 pp
Sub-Saharan Africa2.4%3.0%+0.6 pp

In the past 40 years or so, Developing Asia has increased its share of the global economy (in PPP terms) from 8.9% to an estimated 34.1% today. This dominant region includes China, India, and other fast-growing economies.

The European Union and the United States combined for 51.5% of global productivity in 1980, but they now account for 31% of the total economic mix. Similarly, the Latin America and MENA regions are seeing similar decreases in their share of the economic pie.

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