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S&P 500 buybacks bounce back in Q3, still below 2018 levels

Share repurchases by S&P 500 companies remained below year-ago levels in the third quarter but were up on a quarter-over-quarter basis for the first time in 2019, according to preliminary data from S&P Dow Jones Indices.

Companies bought back $175.89 billion of their own stock in the third quarter, down 13.7% from $203.76 billion in the prior-year period. However, third-quarter buybacks increased by 6.3% from $165.46 billion in the second quarter.

After exceeding the $170 billion mark in the third quarter, share repurchases are now above the "level needed to support stocks and continue reduced share count EPS growth," according to Howard Silverblatt, senior index analyst at S&P Dow Jones Indices.

For the fourth quarter, stock buybacks are expected to increase to near $190 billion, well below the record $223 billion in the fourth quarter of 2018, Silverblatt added.

In the third quarter, Apple Inc. led in buyback spending with $17.64 billion, down from $18.15 billion in the second quarter, which was also a first-place finish. Bank of America Corp. again came in second with $7.63 billion in share repurchases, up from $6.5 billion in the previous quarter.

Wells Fargo & Co., JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Alphabet Inc. completed the top five after raising their buybacks to $7.46 billion, $6.95 billion and $5.70 billion, respectively, in the third quarter.

Information technology continued to lead sectors in the third quarter despite a 10.8% quarter-on-quarter decline, to $49.24 billion from $55.19 billion.

Financial companies increased their buyback spending by 26.4%, to $47.79 billion in the third quarter from $37.82 billion in the second quarter.

Meanwhile, buybacks in the materials sector surged 123.1% quarter on quarter to $5.40 billion after a 49.3% plunge in the previous three-month period. Healthcare share repurchases fell 6.2% to $16.01 billion.

Dividends paid by S&P 500 companies climbed 6.4% year over year to a record $123.12 billion in the third quarter.

Fourth-quarter dividends are forecast to set a record in the $126 billion range, according to S&P Dow Jones Indices.

S&P Dow Jones Indices and S&P Global Market Intelligence are owned by S&P Global Inc.