January 31, 2018

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

FT – Lex in Depth: the case against share buybacks – Dan McCrum 1/29

  • “S&P 500 companies have spent $1.1tn on share repurchase programs over the past two years, as executives struggled to turn modest economic growth into higher earnings. Lacking opportunities to invest, or at least shareholder support to do so, companies have spent money buying their own stock, which provides a boost to the size of profits reported per share.”
  • “Fresh records for buybacks are likely to be set, with changes to the US tax regime expected to trigger a repatriation of profits that have been held offshore for years.”
  • “A string of companies, including Boeing and Honeywell, have announced close to $90bn worth of share buyback programs since the reforms were agreed in December. Bank of America Merrill Lynch estimates that of $1.2tn parked overseas, perhaps half of the post-tax total, or around $450bn, could be devoted to share buybacks.”
  • “Shareholders are going to be banging on doors saying we want some of that money,’ says Howard Silverblatt, senior index analyst at S&P Dow Jones. No matter that stock markets have set record highs of late, the expectation that spare cash must be returned to its rightful owners is putting managers under pressure.”
  • “They almost have to buy when the stock is high. Timing the market is not something most companies can do,’ adds Mr Silverblatt. But the new flood of dollars raises an old question about whose interest the practice serves.”
  • McCrum does an excellent job of outlining some of the motives and outcomes of the practice. Some highlights:
  • “The only year in the past 14 when big US companies spent less on buybacks than dividends was 2009, when the S&P 500 index hit rock bottom. ‘The best time to do [a buyback] is in a recession, but that’s when everyone is scared stupid,’ says Andrew Lapthorne, a quantitative strategist for Société Générale.”
  • “If a company has more cash than it needs, and nothing better to invest in, it should consider whether buying its own stock is a good investment. Yet the time when companies have plenty of spare cash tends to be when business is good and shares are overvalued.”
  • “Apple has admitted that a primary purpose of its buybacks is to neutralize the impact of stock compensation.”
  • “The company has spent $151bn on repurchasing stock in the past decade, about 17% of its almost $900bn market valuation. The number of shares has dropped by about the same amount — 17%. Yet when Apple started to buy in 2012, the shares could be bought for half today’s price. The difference has been handed to employees.”
  • “Some companies have managed to spend more on buybacks in recent years than the shares are worth today.”
  • “Since 1995 IBM, the consulting and supercomputer group, has spent $162bn to repurchase more than half of its outstanding shares. What is left, for those who did not sell, is a company now valued at $154bn, suggesting the money was spent in the wrong place.”
  • “Any company will wonder what its valuation might have been, were different decisions taken. Prof Lazonick (William Lazonick, professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts Lowell) points to the example of Cisco Systems, the world’s largest networking company. In two decades it has spent $75bn repurchasing stock, more than three times the total for capital investment in property or equipment. A serial acquirer of other businesses, it has long struggled to grow sales.”

Markets / Economy

WSJ – Daily Shot: Trading activity at retail-focused brokerages 1/29

  • “Retail investor trading activity has accelerated recently. It’s starting to look like the late 90s.”

Real Estate

Bloomberg – Singapore Overtakes China as Largest Asian Investor in U.S. Property – Pooja Thakur Mahrotri 1/28

Bloomberg – Wanda Selling $5.4 Billion Property Unit Stake, to Seek Listing ‘Soon’ – Jing Yang De Morel 1/29

  • More on the Tencent investment below. However, wanted to call attention to…
  • “Separately, Wanda put its last two overseas property developments up for sale, according to people familiar with the matter, in the latest unwinding of a decade-long overseas buying spree that drew scrutiny from Chinese regulators. The group is seeking buyers for a hotel, office and apartment complex in Chicago and a development in Beverly Hills, California, said the people, who asked not to be identified because discussions are private.”
  • Presumably the Beverly Hills site is the “One Beverly Hills,” aka Robinson May, site that was previously purchased by New Pacific Realty Corporation for $33.5m in 2004, sold to the Candy Brothers for $500M in 2007, bought out of foreclosure by Hong Kong based Joint Treasure International for $148M in 2010 and then sold to Dalian Wanda for $420M in 2014.

CNBC – America’s 10 most valuable malls are bringing in billions in sales. Here’s where they are – Lauren Thomas 1/29

NYT – New York’s Hidden Home Buyer Closing Costs: Luxury Boxes and Mint Mojitos – Shane Goldmacher 1/29

Health / Medicine

Economist – America’s opioid epidemic is driven by supply 1/29

  • “A new study shows that economic factors do not fully explain the rising number of drug deaths.”

WSJ – Schools Close as Flu Epidemic Spreads – Tawnell D. Hobbs and Sarah Toy 1/27

  • “Schools in at least 11 states have closed as the worst flu epidemic in nearly a

decade intensifies.”

China

WSJ – Why Tencent’s Latest Property Deal Makes Sense – Jacky Wong 1/30

  • Reminds me of when the Japanese Keiretsu’s were buying stakes in each other.
  • In this instance Dalian Wanda benefits from an association with Tencent and Tencent picks up some real estate equity on the cheap (maybe).
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