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Stock illustration: Businessman looking at money trends.

Companies have been spending record amounts to buy back their own stock. Recently released research from strategy consulting firm Fortuna Advisors indicates that the 364 public companies with the largest-volume stock repurchase programs spent an all-time high of more than $3 trillion on those programs during the five-year period ending in 2019.

Analyst and investor consensus generally holds that the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act fueled this increase by encouraging companies to repatriate funds previously held overseas. Buybacks spiked in 2018, to $770 billion. In 2019, however, volume did not fall back to its prior levels but was down just 8 percent, to $709 billion.

In fact, the amount of capital that these companies are plowing into buybacks has grown at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 10.4 percent since 2015. This compares with annual growth over the same time period of 7.1 percent for dividends, 5.5 percent for organic investment, and 1.4 percent for cash acquisitions. Meanwhile, these organizations’ net debt grew at a CAGR of 25 percent, and the ratio of net debt to net income rose from 118 percent to 209 percent over the period.

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