Key Words: S&P 500 companies spent $7 trillion on buybacks and dividends and ‘been rewarded’ by coronavirus bailouts, says Social Capital CEO

Key Words

‘That kind of behavior makes no sense,’ Chamath Palihapitiya says about buybacks and dividend payouts over the past decade

Chamath Palihapitiya, founder and chief executive officer of Social Capital LP, speaks during the Bloomberg Business of Equality conference in New York, U.S., on Tuesday, May 8, 2018.

Bloomberg News

‘When you do things like buybacks and dividends, what you are essentially saying is, you are throwing your hands up in the air and declaring to the world: “I do not know what to do with this money.”’

Chamath Palihapitiya, chief executive of venture-capital firm Social Capital LP, argued during an interview on CNBC’s “Fast Money Halftime Report” Wednesday that stock repurchases by corporations are a bad use of funds and have left companies vulnerable to this current COVID-19 crisis.

The wealthy, outspoken investor said that the companies that make up the S&P 500

have expended some $7 trillion in the form of buying back their own stocks or paying dividends to shareholders since 2009, in the aftermath of the most recent financial crisis more than a decade ago.

He said that those expenditures represented more than 90 cents of every dollar of profit that the country’s largest companies made over the past decade.

Palihapitiya argues that such repurchases and dividend payouts, which he says tend to benefit C-suite executives and other insiders, have left many companies flat-footed, where they may be ill-prepared to deal with a once-in-century pandemic that has infected 2.6 million people globally and left more than 181,000 dead, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University as of Wednesday afternoon.

“I just think that kind of behavior makes no sense, and instead of being punished, it has been rewarded,” the investor said.

Earlier this month, Palihapitiya was the subject of a segment of the “Halftime Report,” where he said the U.S. shouldn’t be bailing out billionaires and hedge funds, highlighting growing income inequality in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world.

Read: Apple expected to add up to $100 billion to buyback program while many companies halt repurchases

Silicon Valley-based Social Capital specializes in investing in startups that serve the greater good, such as health care, education and financial services, with about $1.2 billion in total assets.

Palihapitiya explained during Wednesday’s segment that his comments from early April stem from the feeling that the Federal Reserve and the U.S. government have essentially returned that $7 trillion to the companies in the form of aid to support an economy that has been badly shaken by the coronavirus pandemic.

“Instead of deciding to save that money to try and do M&A, to try and do R&D, to pay your employees more, these people have given it back in an open-market purchase,” he said of the stock buybacks.

“Why aren’t all these companies trying to figure out how to be more resilient?” Palihapitiya asked.

The investor’s statements come as the Dow Jones Industrial Average

and the Nasdaq Composite Index

were rallying Wednesday afternoon, even as markets braced for a jobless claims report on Thursday that will likely reveal that millions more Americans are unemployed after last week’s report on unemployment benefits brought the total number of those out of work at about 20 million over the past month.

The traditional criticism of share buybacks is that it is a way to enrich the wallets of CEOs and top-level executives because it can drive per-share gains of stock by reducing the outstanding float. However, proponents say repurchases are a low-risk way of allocating capital for firms that are uncertain about the return on investment of higher wages and research and development, and therefore the best use of capital.

To be sure, the Social Capital CEO isn’t the first one to rail against such payouts, lawmakers have floated the idea of thwarting share buybacks too. A New York Times op-ed from Sens. Chuck Schumer and Bernie Sanders sought to limit buybacks by making them contingent on a company investing in its workers and communities first.

Check out Palihapitiya’s segment on CNBC below:

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