Employers appear to be using proceeds from corporate tax cuts to continue the practice of rewarding shareholders and executives over workers.
In the first quarter of 2018, corporate America dedicated $305 billion to stock buybacks and cash takeovers compared with $131 billion in pretax wage growth, according to TrimTabs, which compiles market and economic data and operates an ETF that focuses on firms with high levels of free cash flow.
"The recently enacted corporate tax cut is likely to deliver far more benefits to top management and investors than to typical American households," said David Santschi, director of liquidity research at TrimTabs.
"Even before the tax cut, U.S. companies were spending far more money on cash mergers and stock buybacks — actions that tend to boost disproportionately the compensation of top management — than on hiring new workers and paying existing workers more," he added.
The early tally continues a trend that has seen companies commit $4.9 trillion over the past five years to buybacks and deals — "financial engineering," as TrimTabs puts it — and $2.3 trillion to wage increases. If the first-quarter numbers were extrapolated over a five-year period, they would show $6.1 trillion in buybacks and deals to $2.6 trillion in wages, or only slightly above the previous five-year pace for worker raises.
TrimTabs studies money flows to make investing recommendations.