CEOs love share buybacks for the most obvious reason in the world

When BlackRock CEO Larry Fink wrote to the chief executives of all the S&P 500 companies in April asking them to lay off on stock buybacks and dividend payouts, he ignited a debate about shareholder value.

Now, it’s easy to point to activist investors as the villains who force boards to return cash to shareholders at the risk of damaging companies’ long-term development.

But activists are not the only ones pushing for heightened returns.

Bloomberg’s Alex Barinka reports that the CEOs of America’s large cap companies have a lot to gain from it too.

Of the 15 (non-Wall Street) companies that returned the most money to shareholders via buybacks last year, 11 based their chief executives’ compensation on earnings per share, total shareholder return, or both, according to the report.

So when a company like IBM spends money, say, buying back stock from investors, or paying out dividends, that tends to boost its share price. And when the share price goes up, so does the CEO’s pay.

In fact, IBM’s CEO Ginni Rometty depends quite a bit on operating earnings per share — almost 40 per cent of her pay package is based on it, according to Bloomberg.

At Disney, CEO Bob Iger’s performance-based stock award hinges both on total shareholder returns and earnings per share, compared with the S&P 500 index.

It’s a win-win. Unless, like, Fink, you believe that there’s more to a board’s mandate than short-term payouts.

“Corporate leaders’ duty of care and loyalty is not to every investor or trader who owns their companies’ shares at any moment in time, but to the company and its long-term owners,” Fink wrote in his April letter.

Read the full story on Bloomberg ยป

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