Last year was something of a tepid year on the share buyback front. S&P 500 member firms repurchased $115.6 billion of their own shares in the third quarter, a 28 percent year-over-year decrease and good for the second consecutive quarterly decline, according to FactSet.
PKW And Buybacks
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That figure was also the smallest buyback total since the first quarter of 2013. Still, the PowerShares BuyBack Achievers Fund (ETF)(NASDAQ:PKW), the largest exchange-traded fund dedicated to a share buyback methodology, returned 12.9 percent last year, beating the 12 percent gained by the S&P 500. PKW has outpaced the S&P 500 in five of the past eight years.
The $1.38 billion PKW, which turned 10 years old last month, follows the NASDAQ US BuyBack Achievers Index. That benchmark is is comprised of US securities issued by corporations that have effected a net reduction in shares outstanding of 5% or more in the trailing 12 months, according to PowerShares.
PKW's index methodology can and does lead to sector weights that are often not comparable to those found in broader benchmarks such as the Russell 1000 or S&P 500. For example, industrial and consumer discretionary names combine for about 48 percent of the ETF's weight, but those sectors combine for just 22.6 percent of the S&P 500.
At times the fund can make large sector bets. It currently has greater exposure to the consumer cyclical and industrials sectors than the Russell 1000 Index and less exposure to consumer defensive, healthcare, and telecom. This tilt toward cyclical sectors could hurt performance during a market downturn. However, so far the fund's downside performance and volatility have been similar to the Russell 1000 Index, said Morningstar in a recent note.
The Strategy In Practice
In the third quarter, technology and financial services companies were the two biggest spenders on share buybacks with energy and materials notching the largest year-over-year decreases, according to FactSet data. Technology and financials combine for about a third of PKW's roster while energy and materials stocks represent less than 5 percent.
Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) remains the largest S&P 500 member in terms of buying back its own shares, but because the iPad maker currently is not reducing its shares outstanding total to meet the requirements for inclusion in PKW's index, the stock is not one of the 234 found in the ETF's lineup. Boeing Co (NYSE:BA) is PKW's largest holding at a weight of just over 5 percent.
Repurchasing activity can be lumpy because firms often use share-repurchase programs to distribute residual cash and are not obligated to fully execute these programs. This can create high turnover, which reached 68 percent in the most recent fiscal year. Mirroring its index, the fund weights its holdings by market capitalization but imposes a 5 percent cap to improve diversification, added Morningstar.
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