Stock buybacks, a principal driver of the bull market that began in March 2009, are on the wane.
Share repurchases slid to $112.2 billion in the third quarter, a 12 percent decline from the previous three-month period and a 25.5 percent tumble from the same period a year before, according to figures released Thursday by S&P Dow Jones Indices.
The total reached its historic high in the second quarter of 2007, around the time of what also marked a peak in stock prices. Buybacks fell through the first quarter of 2009, then increased gradually and helped trigger the second-longest bull market in history. The surge came amid historically low interest rates that made it easy to borrow cash returned to shareholders.
The buybacks total peaked out just short of a record in the first quarter of 2016, then fell through the year. The Q3 levels represented a 30.5 percent decline from the Q1 total of $161.4 billion, according to S&P.
The withdrawal comes at a time when investors increasingly are demanding that companies use their cash stockpiles for purposes other than buybacks, dividends and deal-making. They're looking for more attention to longer-term strategies like capital purchases, research and development and hiring.
S&P 500 companies excluding financials, transportation and utilities are holding $1.49 trillion in cash, an increase of 8.2 percent over the second quarter.