What Record Stock Buybacks Say About Economic Growth

For all the obfuscation surrounding the topic of stock buybacks and corporations returning record amounts of cash to their shareholders, the bottom line is as simple as it gets.

This is what you are taught in CFO 101 class:

  1. if you see organic growth opportunities for your business, or if you want to maintain the quality of your cash-flow generating assets, you invest in (either maintenance or growth) capex.
  2. if there are no such opportunities, you return cash to investors (or, maybe spend a little on M&A unless you are Valeant in which case you spend everything and then much more).

That's it.

Well, based on this shocking chart from the FT's John Authers, does it seem that America's corporations - who are returning over a record 90% of Net Income to shareholders - are seeing (m)any growth opportunities?