Politicians have nothing to do with day to day job creation, but CEOs do.

And the fact that large company CEOs are willfully holding back this country's job growth is a national scandal.

The issue is that a huge proportion of corporate profits--73 percent at last count--is going to share buybacks, and not to investment in the actual businesses.

A quick primer, for anyone lost by that language: Share buybacks result from a CEO's decision to use a corporate checking account to buy very, very costly pieces of paper. Those papers are called shares and CEOs buy them instead of  other things they should invest in--such as, say factories--because buying shares makes their value go up fast.

As it happens, CEOs are paid especially well when shares go up fast. That's why they are dedicating almost three-quarters of corporate profit to ensure that shares go up.

Here's what we must do: Change that one gimmick to funnel needed investment into the economy.

The loophole dates to 1982 when the SEC thought that allowing buybacks would  free up capital flows. At the same time, management theory suggested that "aligning shareholder value" to CEO pay would be good for shareholders. So options-based compensation became the norm.  

Marry those two concepts together, and you have today's nightmare: CEOs buying shares in order to manipulate their own compensation. 

The numbers are incredible. According to Factset's Buyback Quarterly, US companies repurchased $603 billion of shares in the last twelve months. For perspective, that's over three percent of the current run rate of the economy. 

Or 12 million jobs, at  one measure of 2015 wages

Yes--with the stroke of a pen, we could make GDP rise by three percent and jobs increase by 12 million.

That's not my opinion. Factset clearly shows the frightening statistics: The share of overall profits taken. The number of companies whose buybacks exceed net income. The so-called shareholder activists who lobby for more.

This is not a new issue. It has worried our best economistsHarvard Business Review described the practice as Profits Without Prosperity

The Economist says the practice is " robbing Peter to pay the CEO" and calls it "corporate cocaine." The Financial Times said buybacks are a bad investment.

Real investments are tangible  They can be buildings, or factories or research and development projects.  All things that real people use to build real income and jobs.

That's the key point.  Me, I'll take the jobs.  Jobs give income to large numbers of people, and increase the number of customers for the entrepreneurial economy that we all depend on.  

The facts are clear about the toxicity of the share buyback trend, and the benefits of the alternative.

To kill this loophole, all we need is the outrage.

Published on: Jul 28, 2016
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