The point about share buybacks is that they sit uncomfortably in a widening narrative of increasing inequality, weak income growth (worse at lower income levels), falling economic growth rates and disturbing trends in both human and capital investment. The backdrop to the narrative and one that threatens to envelop it as one are the burgeoning asset and debt markets, whose rise is at odds with the weakening fundamental growth prospects of many developed economies. Asset markets and hence debt are being supported, yet the fundamental underpinning to their longer term valuation, investment and growth in real incomes is being weakened. At some point the two, economic reality and asset market capitalisation will need to meet.
I just wanted to extend the line of thought I was developing in my previous blog post: that is of the synchronisation of weak growth/capex and the increasing amount of corporate capital being allocated to share buybacks.
To a certain extent they all have one common thread, and that is a depreciation of corporate assets both current human and capital, and, with respect to the future, lower future rates of productivity growth that reduced human/capex investment imply. I also thought it worthwhile noting the decline in shareholder capital on the balance sheet of corporations like IBM and the increase in liabilities. Companies are becoming more highly leveraged at a time when economic growth and its important driver, income growth, is on a distinctly weakening trend.
So when the cycle turns, what should we expect to see happen first? An uptick in wages followed by capex and new issuance, or would buybacks slack off first, followed then by wage growth and finally capital expenditure. Or should we first look earlier in the chain to the composition of employment?
If we are in a strong stagnation dynamic I would expect that the economy would move through several iterations before a new wage growth cycle gains its own momentum. And there are many stagnation dynamics overlaying the economic structure….