What the $3 Billion Baker Hughes Stock Buyback Is All About

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When a company calls a share buyback an “attractive use of cash” after reporting negative free cash flow of $405 million in its most recent quarter, that does not necessarily mean that the company is trying to win back investors who just as recently fled. But it’s always a good guess.

Oilfield services provider Baker Hughes, a GE company (NYSE: BHGE) announced Monday morning that it plans to repurchase $3 billion worth of its common stock over an unspecified period. At the current share price, this buyback amounts to about 8% of company’s outstanding stock.

The buyback also will include repurchasing shares held by General Electric Co. (NYSE: GE), which completed its acquisition of Baker Hughes in July and owns about 62.5% of the oilfield services firm’s stock.

Baker Hughes CEO Lorenzo Simonelli said of the buyback:

Today’s announcement represents an important step in our plan to optimize BHGE’s capital structure. We believe the buyback is an attractive use of cash given the value of our franchise and the highly accretive nature of this program. … We are pleased that BHGE’s strong balance sheet enables us to not only return value to shareholders through our regular quarterly dividend and share repurchases, but also invest in opportunities that will strengthen our fullstream portfolio and drive long-term growth.

At the end of September, Baker Hughes reported $4.78 billion in cash and equivalents. Exactly how does committing nearly 60% of that to a share buyback put more money in shareholders pockets?

Maybe it depends on who the shareholder is:

BHGE and BHGE LLC have also entered into an agreement with GE whereby BHGE LLC will repurchase its common units from GE on a pro rata basis and on the same terms as it repurchases common units from BHGE. The proceeds distributed to BHGE will be used to repurchase Class A shares on the open market or in privately negotiated transactions. The repurchases will not materially change BHGE and GE’s relative economic interests in BHGE LLC or BHGE’s Class A and Class B stockholders’ relative voting interest.

It looks like Baker Hughes is about to send 62.5% of its $3 billion buyback straight back to the mothership. Baker Hughes reported a cash infusion of $7.4 billion from GE in its third-quarter earnings announcement and now begins payback time.

And then there’s this: “In addition, [Baker Hughes] also announced its intention for BHGE LLC to issue new debt.” Baker Hughes reported $3.04 billion in long-term debt as of the end of September, along with $1.87 billion short-term debt and the current portion of long-term debt.

The share price for Baker Hughes was up about 4.3% early Monday morning, at $32.52 in a 52-week range of $29.62 to $68.59. The 12-month consensus price target is $38.56.

GE’s stock was last seen up about 0.2%, at $20.18 in a 52-week range of $19.63 to $32.38.