Dividend vs. Buyback: What’s the Difference?

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Dividend vs. Buyback: What’s the Difference?

Dividends vs. Buybacks: An Overview

Many corporations compensate their shareholders in two ways: by paying dividends or by repurchasing stock. A growing number of blue chips, or well-known corporations, are doing both. Dividends and stock buybacks form a powerful combination that may greatly increase shareholder profits. But, which is preferable: stock buybacks or dividends?

A dividend payout indicates current-year income. A repurchase, on the other hand, indicates capital gains after deducting the stock’s basis. Buybacks also remove the share and any future profits from the market, while dividends allow you to retain your shares.

Dividends and share buybacks may both serve to boost the overall rate of return on stocks. However, there is much disagreement over whether technique of returning money to shareholders is best for investors and the firms involved in the long run.

Key Takeaways

  • Dividends and stock buybacks may considerably improve shareholder returns.
  • Some businesses give out dividends to shareholders on a regular basis, usually from after-tax earnings, on which investors must pay income taxes.
  • Companies buy back stock from the market, lowering the number of outstanding shares and perhaps increasing the share price over time.
  • Dividends and buybacks may be useful or detrimental to investors depending on their viewpoint, strategy, and objectives.


Dividends are a portion of earnings paid to shareholders at regular intervals or on special occasions. Although cash dividends are the most prevalent, firms may also pay out stock dividends.

Many investors favor firms that pay cash dividends since dividends may have a major impact on an investment’s return. According to Standard & Poor’s, dividends have provided roughly one-third of total gains for US equities since 1926. Capital gains, or gains from price appreciation, on the other hand, accounted for two-thirds of overall returns.

Dividends are paid out of after-tax earnings by corporations. Shareholders must include them in their yearly income taxes after they get them.

Dividends are seldom paid by start-ups and other high-growth enterprises, such as those in the technology industry. These businesses often disclose losses in their early years, and revenues are typically reinvested to promote expansion. Large, established firms with reliable revenue and earnings streams often have the finest dividend payment track record and give the highest payouts.

Larger corporations also have lower profits growth rates since they have developed a market and competitive edge. As a consequence, dividends contribute to the total stock return.


A corporation engages in share repurchase by launching a buyback program in order to lower the quantity of equities on the market. Share repurchases often raise per-share profitability measurements such as earnings-per-share (EPS), cash-flow-per-share, and improve performance measures such as return on equity.

These better measures will typically push the share price higher over time, resulting in financial benefits for shareholders. When a shareholder sells his or her shares back to the corporation, a tax event occurs.

A corporation may finance a repurchase by incurring debt, utilizing cash on hand, or using cash flow from activities. The timing of a repurchase is essential to its effectiveness. Buying back shares may be seen as management’s confidence in a company’s future; yet, if the shares later fall for whatever reason, that confidence has been misguided.

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Buybacks are not usually conducted to repay shareholders. A buyback may also be launched when a corporation wishes to boost its share price, consolidate ownership, or lower its cost of capital.

It is crucial to know that when a buyback is launched, you are not obligated to sell your shares. If you maintain your stocks, your stake in the issuing business will grow when other investors sell theirs.

Shares prices often rise during and after a repurchase—holding your stock enables you to profit from any price rises.

Dividend vs.Buyback Example

Let’s look at a fictional consumer goods business called Footloose & Fancy-Free Inc. (FLUF), which has 500 million shares outstanding. Assume FLUF shares traded at $20 on average for a year, giving it a $10 billion yearly market capitalization.

Assume FLUF had $10 billion in sales this year and a net income margin of 10%, for a net income (profit after taxes, cost of goods sold, costs, and interest) of $1 billion. For the year, profits per share are $2 (or $1 billion in profit/500 million shares). As a consequence, the company traded at a price-to-earnings ratio (P/E) of 10 for the year (or $20 / $2 = 10).

FLUF has chosen to be especially kind to its shareholders, pledging to distribute its whole net income of $1 billion to them. There are two possibilities (keep in mind these are highly simplified).

Scenario 1: Dividend

FLUF pays out $1 billion in special dividends, or $2 per share. Assume you are a FLUF shareholder with 1,000 FLUF shares acquired at $20 per share. As a result, you will get $2,000 (1,000 shares x $2/share) as a special dividend.

You maintain the shares in this case. Because the firm is performing well enough to pay out special dividends, share prices are expected to rise as other investors and traders begin acquiring and trading the stock in anticipation of dividends and price gains. The value of your interests is expected to rise if the firm continues to generate interest and value.

The IRS considers a special dividend of this sort to be regular income, so if you get one, you must include it in your income taxes at tax time.

Then, imagine that FLUF’s share price rises to $21 per share four months after the special dividend is given to shareholders. You now have $21,000 in shares and were paid $2,000 for holding it—a total of $23,000, a $3,000 increase in four months. Furthermore, since you still own the shares, you may continue to profit from any appreciation and future dividends.

Scenario 2: Buyback

Instead of paying a dividend, FLUF plans to repurchase shares with the $1 billion. Companies frequently carry out share repurchase schemes over a long period of time and at varying prices. To keep things simple, suppose FLUF buys back a large block of shares for $22 a share.

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Your 1,000 FLUF shares are repurchased for $22, totaling $22,000 in value. You’ve matched the amount you’d have received from a special dividend, but you no longer own the shares. Because the firm now has fewer shares on the market, profits per share will most likely grow, and price-to-earnings will fall without a commensurate increase in earnings—assuming the company’s performance remains consistent with the previous year.

Investors and dealers will notice growing share prices, driving FLUF share prices upward as demand rises. Assume that four months following the repurchase, FLUF share prices have climbed to $23 and the shares you sold are now worth $23,000. You profited from the share repurchase program, but you missed out on future dividends and appreciation since you no longer owned the shares.

Shares buybacks are taxed as capital gains after deducting the cost of the stock, as well as your filing status and income.

Another option to benefit from a buyback is to sell part of your shares. Assume you repurchase 500 shares at $23 per share. You paid $10,000 on these shares when you bought them, so when you sell them, you get $11,500. You’ve made $1,500 and have another 500 shares in case the price rises. If share prices rise to $24 in the next two months, you’ll have earned another $500 on the shares you owned, for a total gain of $2,000 in two months.

Key Differences

When deciding between buybacks and dividends, there are many significant things to consider. Here are a few examples.

Dividends and Returns Aren’t Guaranteed

Future returns on investments are far from certain. For example, suppose FLUF’s business prospects plummeted after the first year. As a consequence, its net income dropped 5% in the next year. Investors become apprehensive of companies whose values begin to decrease, therefore share prices are quite likely to fall with profits.

Assume no repurchase occurred; profits decreased to $9.5 billion, outstanding shares stayed at 5 million, and the price-per-share averaged $19 in year two. The company would have an EPS of $1.90 and a P/E of 10—EPS would fall, but the price-to-earnings ratio would remain same.

Dividends tend to decline when net income falls, and investors may begin to sell their equities. Stock prices may continue to fall; nevertheless, the inverse may occur, and net income may climb with comparable returns and dividend increases.

A repurchase, on the other hand, ensures a certain payment once it is disclosed. Prices may vary for each repurchase period, but they are normally fixed for that term. However, even if you merely sell portion of your shares back, there is no assurance that a repurchase would be lucrative for you in the long term.

Stock buybacks of greater over $1 million will be subject to a 1% excise tax beginning in 2023, unless they are classified as dividends or undertaken by a real estate investment trust or regulated investment firm.

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Buybacks Boost Low-Growth Companies

The inverse of this situation is one that many blue chips enjoy, in which frequent share buybacks slowly decrease the number of outstanding shares. Even if a company has middling top- and bottom-line growth, the decrease may dramatically enhance earnings-per-share growth rates, resulting in greater valuations by investors and a rise in share price.

Dividends raise the value of shares for certain investors, while share buybacks often result in quicker price gains.

Wealth Building

Dividends may be superior for long-term wealth accumulation. You may not only maintain the shares and profit from any gain, but you can also utilize the dividends or distributions to buy additional shares. Dividend payments were formerly more widely publicized than buybacks; however, this is changing as repurchases become more prevalent.


Buybacks provide the corporation and its investors more flexibility. A business, for example, is under no obligation to finish a stated buyback program within the time period given. If times are tough, it may be necessary to limit the rate of buybacks in order to preserve capital.

Under a buyback program, investors may pick the date of their share sales and the resulting tax payment. Dividends do not have this flexibility since an investor must pay taxes on them when submitting tax returns for that year.

Although a dividend-paying company’s dividend payments are discretionary, many investors do not appreciate lowering or abolishing payouts. If a regular dividend is cut, stopped, or abolished, shareholders may sell their shares in large numbers.

Frequently Asked Questions

Which Is Better, Dividend or Buyback?

It is determined by your mindset, investment choices, and ambitions. Some investors favor dividend stocks, while others prefer stock buybacks.

Is a Share Buyback Good for Investors?

A share repurchase might be advantageous if you anticipate the stock will not rise further or if the firm will cease paying dividends. If you believe in the firm, a buyback may not be for you.

What Is the Advantage of a Share Buyback?

Share buybacks provide you with cash in exchange for your shares while increasing the stock’s market value.

The Bottom Line

Finally, whether you select a dividend-paying stock or a firm with a planned repurchase depends on how you perceive the market. For example, between August 2012 and August 2022, the S&P 500’s 100 businesses with the highest buyback ratios returned 13.96%, while the S&P 500 returned 13.08%.

The difference is little, but if you’re optimistic about a firm, you could maintain the shares for the expected rewards. If you are negative on the firm, you might sell the shares and reinvest the proceeds in your preferred value preservation instrument or another investment. Either approach is advantageous for many perspectives.

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