$3.5 trillion so far, and more ahead for buybacks

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The high likelihood that the Federal Reserve will maintain current interest rate policy means stock buybacks likely will remain in vogue.

Just a short time ago, it looked like the dividend payments and share repurchase programs that companies have used aggressively to boost their stock prices might start to fade once the U.S. central bank unwound its stimulus and ultimately normalize interest rates.

That's because companies have used cheap financing courtesy of the Fed as a means to underwrite those buybacks. Nonfinancial companies have a post-crisis high debt of $13.1 trillion on their balance sheets, compared to $1.8 trillion of cash that they've been hanging onto.