Companies With the Largest Stock Buybacks of All Time

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Apple
> Market cap: $740 billion
> Dividend yield: 1.5%

Back in April of 2014, Apple said it planned to use more than $130 billion of cash under the expanded program by the end of calendar 2015, increasing its share repurchase authorization to $90 billion from the $60 billion target disclosed in 2013. At the earnings report in January 2015, Apple said: “We spent over $8 billion on our capital return program, bringing total returns to investors to almost $103 billion, over $57 billion of which occurred in just the last 12 months.” That is inclusive of dividends and buybacks combined, and that former seven-for-one stock split allowed it to be included in the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

What is almost a certainty here is that Apple will increase its dividends again. Still, investors such as Carl Icahn are likely to outline how more buybacks would be beneficial as well. Icahn himself once proposed even larger buybacks, but he has since backed off, other than passive commentary on the matter. Apple has more than half of its business outside of the United States now, so it was not alone in recent communications that most of its cash is overseas.

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Cisco Systems
> Market cap: $143 billion
> Dividend yield: 3.0%

Cisco might not hold any records for one-time stock repurchase announcements. Still, John Chambers has used buybacks to keep the float lower and to offset employee stock options and shares that were used to make its endless number of acquisitions. Cisco is a company that deserves kudos for clear communications in its earnings releases, as it spells out each time how many shares were bought and for what price, as well as showing what the cumulative tally has been over time. The flip side of the equation is that the most recent count of 5.1 billion or so shares outstanding compared to about 5.8 billion as of the same time in 2009.

As of January 24, 2015, Cisco had repurchased and retired 4.4 billion shares of its own common stock. It was also profitable if you look at the average share price versus recent trading, as the average price for stock buybacks was listed as $20.73 per share, bringing the total buybacks to about $90.7 billion since the company began its stock buyback plan.

Exxon Mobil
> Market cap: $151 billion
> Dividend yield: 3.1%

Exxon Mobil may have slowed its share buybacks as the price of oil has plunged, but the oil and gas giant used over $13 billion for share buybacks alone in the year 2014. What is amazing is just how many shares this company has bought back — even in the wake of its $40 billion or so acquisition of XTO Energy in 2010.

Exxon had more than 6 billion shares outstanding as recently as 2006, but this was down to about 4.2 billion shares most recently. Exxon’s buybacks have been jokes about taking the company private over the next 15 to 20 years, but it almost certainly will take a return to higher oil for that to occur. Exxon may now focus on raising its dividend, a move that was still expected to occur in the first half of 2015, even with lower oil prices.

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General Electric
> Market cap: $287 billion
> Dividend yield: 3.3%

General Electric is the whole impetus for this article, after announcing its $50 billion buyback plan. Investors will want to know that GE has already shrunk its outstanding share count from around 10.6 billion shares to about 10.0 billion shares. Buybacks are not new here, but what is new is that GE, at least as of the new plans on Friday, intends to shrink its share count down to 8.0 billion to 8.5 billion by 2018.

GE’s restructuring into an industrial conglomerate is going to generate billions of dollars for the parent company — $30 billion or so from real estate sales, near term. Another part of the funding will be from a repatriation of some $36 billion in capital that is currently locked up overseas, which will create a $6 billion tax payment. The spin-off of the post-IPO shares of Synchrony Financial (NYSE: SYF) will come into play as far as GE’s plan to now keep the dividend static through 2016, where GE may still be able to claim that the dividend was raised without an official payout boost due to the size of Synchrony.