eBay Inc (NASDAQ:EBAY)‘s various businesses are growing quite nicely at the moment, but I’m surprisingly disappointed with the company nonetheless. Recently, it has become very obvious that investor capital is flowing into the pockets of insiders. C’mon eBay, it’s not 1999 anymore.
Not all buybacks are created equal
The company reported in its second quarter earnings release that it has repurchased approximately $466 million of its common stock during the second quarter of 2013. That might not necessarily be a bad thing. We at The Motley Fool actually applaud properly executed stock repurchases, as they can create immense amounts of value for shareholders.
Loews Corporation (NYSE:L) is one such company that consistently creates value by repurchasing its shares on the open market at attractive prices. White Mountains Insurance Group Ltd (NYSE:WTM) is yet another company that consistently buys — when it has excess capital — its own shares when they trade at a discount. And Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (NYSE:BRK.B)‘s Warren Buffett recently announced his own intention to repurchase meaningful amounts of stock when it trades below 1.2 times book value.
Investors need to know, however, that not all buybacks are created equal. So I decided to take a closer look at eBay Inc (NASDAQ:EBAY)’s repurchase behavior over the past few years.
The repurchase riddle
Over the past 12 quarters, going back to Q3 2010, eBay Inc (NASDAQ:EBAY) has bought back $3.6 billion worth of stock. The stock has approximately doubled over that time frame, so you might be thinking that was a great use of capital. Unfortunately, the diluted share count only decreased by 1% over those 12 quarters. The count went from 1.328 billion shares to 1.313 billion at the end of the recent quarter.
How can a company buy back $3.6 billion of stock and only reduce its share count by 15 million shares? That would imply a cost of $241 per share on average. We know the stock price was in the range of roughly $25 to $50 per share during that time.
The answer is that eBay Inc (NASDAQ:EBAY) issues a lot of stock to its employees. During the second quarter, their reported free cash flow was $658 million and they used 70% ($466 million) of it to repurchase shares. In Note 15 of their annual report, management clearly discloses the goal of their share repurchase program: “These stock repurchase programs are intended to offset the impact of dilution from our equity compensation programs.”