Investors love when capital is returned to them by companies. This can be in the form of dividends or share buybacks. There is a dark side to dividends and stock buyback plans, though, and that is when companies become too aggressive about returning capital to their shareholders.
A recent announcement by Oracle Corp. (NYSE: ORCL) may have sounded quite positive, as the enterprise software giant said along with earnings that it was adding another $12 billion to its share buyback plan. The stock traded lower due to revenue expectations. And now the company is sitting in a position in which its stock buyback plan may simply be too large. Maybe even way too large.
Standard & Poor’s announced on Tuesday that it was revising its outlook on Oracle to Negative from Stable, citing the aggressive share repurchases since the passage of U.S. tax reform.
S&P pointed out that Oracle doubled its repurchases in the first quarter to $10 billion from $5 billion in the previous quarter, and it showed that its cash position had declined materially, down to roughly $2 billion from $14 billion a year ago.
The S&P warning about Oracle’s credit rating outlook said:
Under our base-case scenario, in which we assume $5 billion of repurchases per quarter coupled with moderate level of acquisitions, Oracle’s adjusted leverage could exceed our current downgrade trigger of 1.25X during fiscal (year) 2020 as its cash position declines. The negative outlook reflects uncertainty around Oracle’s financial policy and the potential for its credit metrics to weaken over time should it continue reducing cash through shareholder returns. We could lower our issuer credit rating on Oracle if the company’s adjusted leverage exceeds 1.25X over the next two years as the company engages in large share repurchases. A debt-funded acquisition that pushes leverage over the same level would also be cause for a downgrade.
While S&P did leave an out for what would make the ratings agency revise its outlook back to Stable, the writing is on the wall in this report. That warning is that Oracle just became guilty of trying to return too much capital in too short a time. The dividend of $0.76 per share on annualized basis generates a yield of 1.46%, but it also implies that Oracle is paying out roughly 22.5% of its consensus earnings estimate (from Thomson Reuters) of $3.38 per share in the form of dividends.
Oracle has a $206 billion market cap, as well as a consensus revenue estimate of $40.1 billion in fiscal year 2019 and $41.3 billion in fiscal 2020. After revenues of almost $39.9 billion in the past year, maybe spending so much on buybacks with low sales growth expectations really is too much.
While most analysts did not issue formal downgrades on the equity ratings for Oracle after its most recent earnings, several price target cuts were seen.
Shares of Oracle were last seen trading up 1.1% at $51.82, which is now handily above the post-earnings reaction price of $49.03. Its consensus analyst price target was $53.07 around earnings, and now it is $53.00. Oracle’s stock price has a 52-week range of $42.57 to $53.48.