Stocks with big buyback programs are struggling this year, and according to one technician, a similar lag has previously preceded two market crashes.
Out of the nine S&P 500 companies with the biggest buyback programs, four are down in stock price over the last year. Exxon Mobil, IBM, 21st Century Fox and Merck are all negative for the year, and Oracle and Intel are fighting to hold onto incremental gains.
According to Oppenhemier's S&P buyback index, stocks with the highest buyback ratios have been falling behind the broader market. Underperformance of this index coincided with a market top in 2000 and again in 2007, technician Ari Wald of Oppenheimer said Wednesday on CNBC's "Trading Nation."
"If you look back, underperformance by these stocks hasn't been good for the market as a whole," Wald said.
However, he said this could be a healthy correction for the index, as the upward trend starts to move sideways. Though it's too soon to tell whether this will be a repeat of 2000 and 2007, he said it could be an indication that investors should be more selective with their stock picks.
"We're really looking at it as one piece of the puzzle," Wald said. "These stocks have to underperform for longer as well to be a bigger drag for the market."
The two biggest buyback names, Apple and Microsoft, with $34.7 billion and $13.8 billion in share repurchases, respectively, have both outperformed the S&P 500 in the past year. Apple has gained more than 10 percent in one year, and Microsoft has jumped more than 14 percent.
For Boris Schlossberg of BK Asset Management, the divergence in performance is a telling sign of which companies are thriving under successful management, and which ones are not.
"The key takeaway here is that buybacks are not going to cover up the sins of bad management," Schlossberg said Wednesday on "Trading Nation. "The companies that are poorly managed are just not going to be able to benefit from a buyback strategy."