Financial Flexibility and the Choice between Dividends and Stock Repurchases
33 Pages Posted: 26 Feb 1999
Date Written: February 3, 1999
The paper measures the growth in open-market stock repurchases and the manner in which stock repurchases and dividends are used in U.S. corporations. We find that aggregate repurchases have increased dramatically over this period: the number and value of repurchase program announcements has grown from 115 and $15.4 billion in 1985 to 755 and $115 billion in 1996. Actual share repurchases have grown from approximately $8.8 billion in 1985 to over $63 billion in 1996. These repurchases represent an economically important source of payouts, and are responsible for much of the variation in aggregate payouts. Nonetheless they are still small relative to the $142 billion in dividends paid by industrial firms listed on Compustat in 1996. Stock repurchases and dividends are used at different times from one another, by different kinds of firms. Stock repurchases are very pro-cyclical, while dividends increase steadily over time. Dividends are paid by firms with higher "permanent" operating cash flows, while repurchases are used by firms with higher "temporary", non-operating cash flows. Repurchasing firms also have much more volatile cash flows and distributions. These results are consistent with the view that the flexibility inherent in repurchase programs is one reason why they are sometimes used instead of dividends.
JEL Classification: G32, G35
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation