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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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Markets

Mapped: The Growth in House Prices by Country

Global house prices were resilient in 2022, rising 6%. We compare nominal and real price growth by country as interest rates surged.

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The Growth in House Prices by Country

Mapped: The Growth in House Prices by Country

This was originally posted on Advisor Channel. Sign up to the free mailing list to get beautiful visualizations on financial markets that help advisors and their clients.

Global housing prices rose an average of 6% annually, between Q4 2021 and Q4 2022.

In real terms that take inflation into account, prices actually fell 2% for the first decline in 12 years. Despite a surge in interest rates and mortgage costs, housing markets were noticeably stable. Real prices remain 7% above pre-pandemic levels.

In this graphic, we show the change in residential property prices with data from the Bank for International Settlements (BIS).

The Growth in House Prices, Ranked

The following dataset from the BIS covers nominal and real house price growth across 58 countries and regions as of the fourth quarter of 2022:

Price Growth
Rank
Country /
Region
Nominal Year-over-Year
Change (%)
Real Year-over-Year
Change (%)
1🇹🇷 Türkiye167.951.0
2🇷🇸 Serbia23.17.0
3🇷🇺 Russia23.19.7
4🇲🇰 North Macedonia20.61.0
5🇮🇸 Iceland20.39.9
6🇭🇷 Croatia17.33.6
7🇪🇪 Estonia16.9-3.0
8🇮🇱 Israel16.811.0
9🇭🇺 Hungary16.5-5.1
10🇱🇹 Lithuania16.0-5.5
11🇸🇮 Slovenia15.44.2
12🇧🇬 Bulgaria13.4-3.2
13🇬🇷 Greece12.23.7
14🇵🇹 Portugal11.31.3
15🇬🇧 United Kingdom10.0-0.7
16🇸🇰 Slovak Republic9.7-4.8
17
🇦🇪 United Arab Emirates
9.62.9
18🇵🇱 Poland9.3-6.9
19🇱🇻 Latvia9.1-10.2
20🇸🇬 Singapore8.61.9
21🇮🇪 Ireland8.6-0.2
22🇨🇱 Chile8.2-3.0
23🇯🇵 Japan7.93.9
24🇲🇽 Mexico7.9-0.1
25🇵🇭 Philippines7.7-0.2
26🇺🇸 United States7.10.0
27🇨🇿 Czechia6.9-7.6
28🇷🇴 Romania6.7-7.5
29🇲🇹 Malta6.3-0.7
30🇨🇾 Cyprus6.3-2.9
31🇨🇴 Colombia6.3-5.6
32🇱🇺 Luxembourg5.6-0.5
33🇪🇸 Spain5.5-1.1
34🇨🇭 Switzerland5.42.4
35🇳🇱 Netherlands5.4-5.3
36🇦🇹 Austria5.2-4.8
37🇫🇷 France4.8-1.2
38🇧🇪 Belgium4.7-5.7
39🇹🇭 Thailand4.7-1.1
40🇿🇦 South Africa3.1-4.0
41🇮🇳 India2.8-3.1
42🇮🇹 Italy2.8-8.0
43🇳🇴 Norway2.6-3.8
44🇮🇩 Indonesia2.0-3.4
45🇵🇪 Peru1.5-6.3
46🇲🇾 Malaysia1.2-2.6
47🇰🇷 South Korea-0.1-5.0
48🇲🇦 Morocco-0.1-7.7
49🇧🇷 Brazil-0.1-5.8
50🇫🇮 Finland-2.3-10.2
51🇩🇰 Denmark-2.4-10.6
52🇦🇺 Australia-3.2-10.2
53🇩🇪 Germany-3.6-12.1
54🇸🇪 Sweden-3.7-13.7
55🇨🇳 China-3.7-5.4
56🇨🇦 Canada-3.8-9.8
57🇳🇿 New Zealand-10.4-16.5
58🇭🇰 Hong Kong SAR-13.5-15.1

Türkiye’s property prices jumped the highest globally, at nearly 168% amid soaring inflation.

Real estate demand has increased alongside declining interest rates. The government drastically cut interest rates from 19% in late 2021 to 8.5% to support a weakening economy.

Many European countries saw some of the highest price growth in nominal terms. A strong labor market and low interest rates pushed up prices, even as mortgage rates broadly doubled across the continent. For real price growth, most countries were in negative territory—notably Sweden, Germany, and Denmark.

Nominal U.S. housing prices grew just over 7%, while real price growth halted to 0%. Prices have remained elevated given the stubbornly low supply of inventory. In fact, residential prices remain 45% above pre-pandemic levels.

How Do Interest Rates Impact Property Markets?

Global house prices boomed during the pandemic as central banks cut interest rates to prop up economies.

Now, rates have returned to levels last seen before the Global Financial Crisis. On average, rates have increased four percentage points in many major economies. Roughly three-quarters of the countries in the BIS dataset witnessed negative year-over-year real house price growth as of the fourth quarter of 2022.

Interest rates have a large impact on property prices. Cross-country evidence shows that for every one percentage point increase in real interest rates, the growth rate of housing prices tends to fall by about two percentage points.

When Will Housing Prices Fall?

The rise in U.S. interest rates has been counteracted by homeowners being reluctant to sell so they can keep their low mortgage rates. As a result, it is keeping inventory low and prices high. Homeowners can’t sell and keep their low mortgage rates unless they meet strict conditions on a new property.

Additionally, several other factors impact price dynamics. Construction costs, income growth, labor shortages, and population growth all play a role.

With a strong labor market continuing through 2023, stable incomes may help stave off prices from falling. On the other hand, buyers with floating-rate mortgages face steeper costs and may be unable to afford new rates. This could increase housing supply in the market, potentially leading to lower prices.

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