What is buyback?
Buyback is reverse of issue of shares by a company where it offers to take back its shares owned by the investors at a specified price; this offer can be binding or optional to the investors.
Why companies buyback?
* Unused Cash: If they have huge cash reserves with not many new profitable projects to invest in and if the company thinks the market price of its share is undervalued. Eg. Bajaj Auto went on a massive buy back in 2000 and Reliance's recent buyback. However, companies in emerging markets like India have growth opportunities. Therefore applying this argument to these companies is not logical. This argument is valid for MNCs, which already have adequate R&D budget and presence across markets. Since their incremental growth potential limited, they can buyback shares as a reward for their shareholders.
* Tax Gains Since dividends are taxed at higher rate than capital gains companies prefer buyback to reward their investors instead of distributing cash dividends, as capital gains tax is generally lower. At present, short-term capital gains are taxed at 10% and long-term capital gains are not taxed.
* Market perception By buying their shares at a price higher than prevailing market price company signals that its share valuation should be higher. Eg: In October 1987 stock prices in US started crashing. Expecting further fall many companies like Citigroup, IBM et al have come out with buyback offers worth billions of dollars at prices higher than the prevailing rates thus stemming the fall.
Recently the prices of RIL and REL have not fallen, as expected, despite the spat between the promoters. This is mainly attributed to the buyback offer made at higher prices.
* Exit option If a company wants to exit a particular country or wants to close the company.
* Escape monitoring of accounts and legal controls If a company wants to avoid the regulations of the market regulator by delisting. They avoid any public scrutiny of its books of accounts.
* Show rosier financials Companies try to use buyback method to show better financial ratios. For eg. When a company uses its cash to buy stock, it reduces outstanding shares and also the assets on the balance sheet (because cash is an asset). Thus, return on assets (ROA) actually increases with reduction in assets, and return on equity (ROE) increases as there is less outstanding equity. If the company earnings are identical before and after the buyback earnings per share (EPS) and the P/E ratio would look better even though earnings did not improve. Since investors carefully scrutinize only EPS and P/E figures, an improvement could jump-start the stock. For this strategy to work in the long term, the stock should truly be undervalued.
* Increase promoter's stake Some companies buyback stock to contain the dilution in promoter holding, EPS and reduction in prices arising out of the exercise of ESOPs issued to employees. Any such exercising leads to increase in outstanding shares and to drop in prices. This also gives scope to takeover bids as the share of promoters dilutes. Eg. Technology companies which have issued ESOPs during dot-com boom in 2000-01 have to buyback after exercise of the same. However the logic of buying back stock to protect from hostile takeovers seem not logical. It may be noted that one of the risks of public listing is welcoming hostile takeovers. This is one method of market disciplining the management. Though this type of buyback is touted as protecting over-all interests of the shareholders, it is true only when management is considered as efficient and working in the interests of the shareholders.
* Generally the intention is mix of any of the above
* Sometimes Governments nationalize the companies by taking over it and then compensates the shareholders by buying back their shares at a predetermined price. Eg. Reserve Bank of India in 1949 by...