Companies With the Largest Stock Buybacks of All Time

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Intel
> Market cap: $151 billion
> Dividend yield: 3.1%

Intel’s 2014 annual report signaled that the board’s original approval of share purchases had been amended to allow up to $65 billion for share buybacks, including some $20 billion of an increase that had been approved in 2014, with some $12.7 billion remaining available to be used for buybacks as of the end of 2014. Intel said that, as the end of 2014, it shrank the float from 5.6 billion shares to 5.1 billion in just five years, with a total of $54.2 billion in combined dividends and buybacks sent to shareholders in that five years.

Now, go back even further to January 2011. At that time, Intel said:

Since the company’s stock buyback program began in 1990, Intel has repurchased approximately 3.4 billion shares at a cost of approximately $70 billion. Taken together since their inception, Intel’s dividends and stock buyback program have returned approximately $91 billion to shareholders.

IBM
> Market cap: $151 billion
> Dividend yield: 3.1%

IBM has been the king of financial engineering to grow earnings per share, having reduced its share count even in 2013 by a third since the beginning of 2000. The company keeps buying back more and more shares as well. Its core business has not grown, but spending billions has helped it shrink the float even with the dilution of stock options, restricted stock and other share-growing activities tech companies have.

While IBM has used less cash to repurchase stock of late, at the end of December 2014 IBM had approximately $6.3 billion remaining from the current share repurchase authorization and promised to seek higher buyback approvals ahead. After shrinking its float by 8% or so in the past year, IBM has spent well over $160 billion between dividends and buybacks alone since 2000 to return capital to shareholders. Big Blue now has less than a billion shares outstanding.

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Microsoft
> Market cap: $342 billion
> Dividend yield: 3.0%

Microsoft has been buying back stock on and off for years now, and its dividend yield is impressive. Growth has been sporadic and a restructuring to cloud and mobile first under Satya Nadella may have run into headwinds after a stellar reception in 2014. A multibillion debt filing from February indicated that Microsoft still had $31 billion remaining under its prior $40 billion stock buyback plan.

What investors need to consider here is that Microsoft has had two prior stock buyback plans of $40 billion each, so if it completes the planned buybacks by the end of 2016, then it will have used $120 billion or so to repurchase shares. Also note that Microsoft’s shares outstanding count is still 8.2 billion. That means it takes a lot to move the needle.

Procter & Gamble
> Market cap: $225 billion
> Dividend yield: 3.1%

This is not a company that investors automatically think of for huge stock buybacks. After all, consumer products rarely come with the same margins as software and popular consumer electronics gadgets. Still, if you go back to early in 2005, around the time Procter & Gamble planned to acquire Gillette, the company signaled that it would spend around $20 billion acquiring its own shares for the 18 months ahead. The Wall Street Journal at the time had said it would be $18 billion to $22 billion.

In 2005, it was not common at all to see companies announce even a $10 billion buyback — let alone $20 billion. As recently as 2008, Procter & Gamble had just over 3 billion shares outstanding, and it now has closer to 2.7 billion. With a Buffett deal for Duracell and with the company divesting so many non-growth brands, it seems logical that the consumer products giant could look to shrink its float even further. The earnings report from January 2015 showed that it used $4.25 billion in 2014 and $4.0 billion in 2013 for share buybacks.

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As you can see, even with an untallied amount of stock being bought back, the hurdle to be among the top buybacks is now $20 billion. Of the S&P 500 Index, 46 companies now have market caps of $100 billion or higher — and 15 of those have market caps of $200 billion or higher.

Other companies have bought back billions worth of stock in recent years. Companies such as Wal-Mart, Hewlett-Packard, Qualcomm, McDonald’s, Wells Fargo and the major banks, AT&T, ConocoPhillips and others have also spent billions in large buyback plans. Companies like Time Warner have as well, but companies that have broken up have not been included here.

Again, calculating the exact tally is difficult. Many sites have differing numbers, and even annual reports and investor relations websites are not always forthcoming about how much stock is being bought back. There are many explanations for this, but that is another matter entirely.