03.18.2020
By John D'Antona

Major Banks Suspend Stock Buybacks

The major banks have opted to jointly suspend all stock buyback activity through the second quarter.

The landmark unilateral action was announced by the The Financial Services Forum, which includes some of the biggest banks in the United States, said its members would stop stock buybacks through the second quarter of the year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The group — which includes JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs and two other banks — said in a statement that the pandemic was an “unprecedented challenge.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented challenge for the world and the global economy and the largest U.S. banks have an unquestioned ability and commitment to supporting our customers, clients and the nation,” the forum said.

The joint decision by all Action removes the stigma of an individual bank making a decision and reflects that the Federal Reserve’s discount window terms have changed, meaning banks are now looking at other ways to provide liquidity to the markets and not just shareholders.

According to CNBC, all eight bank CEOs were in touch with one another.

Stock buybacks are a means of a company to take shares out of circulation and boost stocks prices. In the fourth quarter of 2019, JPMorgan alone did more than $6 billion in net repurchases, which accounts for extra shares issued to employees. The U.S. airline industry has also engaged in major stock buyback programs, with the overall industry spending upwards of 95% of its free cash on stock repurchases. United Airlines spend 80% of its cash on stock buybacks.

Buybacks deliver capital gains taxed at lower rates than dividends, which is why they are so popular.

“The decision on buybacks is consistent with our collective objective to use our significant capital and liquidity to provide maximum support to individuals, small businesses, and the broader economy through lending and other important services,” the Forum said in a release.

This announcement follows Sunday’s historic inter-meeting move by the Federal Reserve, which cut its main interest rate target by 1% and launched a program of at least $700 billion in asset purchases. The central bank also slashed reserve requirements for thousands of banks to zero.

Fed Chairman Jerome Powell said in a press conference on Sunday that the Fed has given “broad, general guidance” to the major banks.

“We’d like them to use their buffers to provide loans and also to work with their borrowers. As you can see, we’re providing a lot of guidance to them across a wide range, and they’re saying they have every intention of doing that. That’s good to hear,” Powell said.

On March 11, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a worldwide pandemic, and two days later, President Donald Trump declared the outbreak a national emergency.

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