Combined stock repurchases by U.S. public companies have reached record levels, a Reuters analysis finds, but as the recent history of such iconic businesses as Hewlett-Packard and IBM suggests, showering cash on shareholders may exact a long-term toll. ... A Reuters analysis shows that many companies are barreling down the same road, spending on share repurchases at a far faster pace than they are investing in long-term growth through research and development and other forms of capital spending. ... Almost 60 percent of the 3,297 publicly traded non-financial U.S. companies Reuters examined have bought back their shares since 2010. In fiscal 2014, spending on buybacks and dividends surpassed the companies’ combined net income for the first time outside of a recessionary period, and continued to climb for the 613 companies that have already reported for fiscal 2015. ... In the most recent reporting year, share purchases reached a record $520 billion. Throw in the most recent year’s $365 billion in dividends, and the total amount returned to shareholders reaches $885 billion, more than the companies’ combined net income of $847 billion. ... Among the 1,900 companies that have repurchased their shares since 2010, buybacks and dividends amounted to 113 percent of their capital spending, compared with 60 percent in 2000 and 38 percent in 1990. ... For decades, the computer hardware, software and services company has linked executive pay in part to earnings per share, a metric that can be manipulated by share repurchases.
Like the population, the business sector of the U.S. economy is aging. Our research shows a secular increase in the share of economic activity occurring in older firms—a trend that has occurred in every state and metropolitan area, in every firm size category, and in each broad industrial sector. ... The share of firms aged 16 years or more was 23 percent in 1992, but leaped to 34 percent by 2011—an increase of 50 percent in two decades. The share of private-sector workers employed in these mature firms increased from 60 percent to 72 percent during the same period. ... Perhaps most startling, we find that employment and firm shares declined for every other firm age group during this period. We explore three potential contributing factors driving the increasing share of economic activity occurring in older firms, and find that a secular decline in entrepreneurship is playing a major role. We also believe that increasing early-stage firm failure rates might be a growing factor. ... We are unable to find strong evidence of a direct link between business consolidation and an aging firm structure. Though we document a clear rise in consolidation during the last few decades, it doesn’t appear to be a major contributor to business aging directly—which has been occurring across all firm size classes, and the most in the smallest of businesses. ...This leaves some questions unanswered, but it clearly establishes that whatever the reason, it has become increasingly advantageous to be an incumbent, particularly an entrenched one, and less advantageous to be a new entrant. ... The trends described here raise some cause for concern in our view. Holding all factors constant, we’d expect an economy with greater concentration in older firms and less in younger firms to exhibit lower productivity, potentially less innovation, and possibly fewer new jobs created than would otherwise be the case.
To conduct business, shell companies like Drex need a registered agent, sometimes an attorney, who files the required incorporation papers and whose office usually serves as the shell's address. This process creates a layer between the shell and its owner, especially if the dummy company is filed in a secrecy haven where ownership information is guarded behind an impenetrable wall of laws and regulations. In Makhlouf's case—and, I discovered, in the case of various other crooked businessmen and international gangsters—the organization that helped incorporate his shell company and shield it from international scrutiny was a law firm called Mossack Fonseca, which had served as Drex's registered agent from July 4, 2000, to late 2011. ... Founded in Panama in 1977 by German-born Jurgen Mossack and a Panamanian man named Ramón Fonseca, a vice president of the country's current ruling party, it later added a third director, Swiss lawyer Christoph Zollinger. Since the 70s the law firm has expanded operations and now works with affiliated offices in 44 countries, including the Bahamas, Cyprus, Hong Kong, Switzerland, Brazil, Jersey, Luxembourg, the British Virgin Islands, and—perhaps most troubling—the US, specifically the states of Wyoming, Florida, and Nevada. ... Mossack Fonseca, of course, is not alone in setting up shell companies used by the world's crooks and tax evaders. Across the globe, there are vast numbers of competing firms ... If shell companies are getaway cars for bank robbers, then Mossack Fonseca may be the world's shadiest car dealership.