Cash Management

Small Comeback for Buybacks

Could a trio of share repurchase announcements be the start of a trend reversal?
Stephen TaubAugust 27, 2008

As companies ride out the credit crisis, some are focused on how to put their cash to work. So far this week, at least three companies — Anadarko Petroleum, Coach Inc., and Gen-Probe — have chosen the buyback path, indicating that management believes their respective shares are undervalued.

In its announcement, Anadarko said it may repurchase up to $5 billion of its stock, which works out to about 18 percent of its outstanding shares. The energy company said it will fund the share repurchases with free cash flow generated by the company’s operations.

Anadarko management said it intends to repurchase about $600 million worth of shares prior to year-end 2008. The authorization extends through August 2011 and replaces prior programs. “Our company’s substantial net asset value is not reflected in our stock price,” said chairman and CEO Jim Hackett. “The share repurchase program capitalizes on this opportunity to materially benefit our shareholders,” he added in a statement.

In response, Fitch Ratings affirmed Anadarko’s long-term issuer default rating (IDR) and other associated debt ratings. In addition, analysts at GimmeCredit characterized the share repurchase as “credit neutral” as long as Anadarko “sticks to using free cash flow for buying shares.”

Similarly, on Monday afternoon, Coach Inc. announced that its board of directors had authorized the repurchase of up to $1 billion of its outstanding common stock by June 26, 2010. The buyback represented about 11 percent of the company’s market capitalization before accounting for its stock price surged on Tuesday. The buyback announcement caused Coach’s stock price to rise 6 percent.

Under the program, purchases of shares will be made from time to time, subject to market conditions, according to the company. Coach executives also announced that the company has just completed its current $1 billion repurchase program, which was put into place in November 2007.

Lew Frankfort, chairman and CEO of the high-end accessories company, said the stock repurchase program is designed both to increase economic value for shareholders and to offset share issuances under the company’s employee compensation plans. “Coach’s strong financial condition allows us to take advantage of opportunities to purchase our securities at attractive prices, particularly considering our excellent long-term outlook,” he added.

After the market closed on Tuesday, Gen-Probe Inc. said its board has authorized the repurchase of up to $250 million of the company’s common stock over the next two years. This represents roughly 8 percent of the company’s market cap.

“Based on our healthy balance sheet and strong operating cash flows, we believe we can increase long-term shareholder value and offset dilution from employee stock programs by buying back stock, while at the same time retaining the strategic and operational flexibility to invest appropriately in our business,” said Herm Rosenman, Gen-Probe’s senior vice president and chief financial officer. Gen-Probe develops diagnostic tests for infectious diseases.

Under the plan, repurchases may occur from time to time and at Gen-Probe’s discretion, depending on market conditions and other factors. Shares may be purchased on the open market or through private transactions, under Rule 10b5-1 trading plans or other available means, the company explained.

The trio of buyback announcements have been somewhat of an anomaly. Although 2007 set a record with $589 billion worth of stock repurchases, the first quarter of 2008 saw a 3.23 percent decline over the $117.7 billion spent during the first quarter of 2007, according to Standard & Poor’s. S&P has not released its preliminary figures for the second quarter.