These companies are returning more money to shareholders after cutting jobs

Key Points
  • Companies are slowly reinstating their dividends and stock buyback programs after suspending them due to the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Critics of the practices say they keep the company from investing long term in its own business and can cause wage stagnation for its workers.
  • Some of the companies that are planning to return more cash to shareholders have laid off employees or permanently cut jobs.
Shoppers stand in line to enter a Foot Locker Inc. store at the Queens Center shopping mall in the Queens borough of New York, U.S., on Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020.
Peter Foley | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Dividends and stock buyback programs are slowly returning, but for some companies, the reinstatement of these plans follows layoffs and permanent job cuts.  

In March and April, the coronavirus pandemic spurred many companies to put their share buyback programs on pause and suspend or slash their dividend payments. In the case of some companies, like airlines and restaurant chains, the measure was part of a scramble for cash as the crisis threw their businesses into turmoil and demand collapsed. In the second quarter of 2020, dividend payments fell to their lowest level in more than a decade, and Bank of America estimated that buybacks plunged about 90%. 

For investors, a dividend payment makes a company's stock more attractive during times of market turbulence. Investors also like share repurchases because it drives up the price of the stock and its earnings per share. Critics say these decisions keep a company from investing long term in its own business, fattens the pockets of executives and causes wage stagnation for its workers.

Suspending dividends and buybacks weren't the only measures taken by companies in the early days of the crisis. Many also rolled out cost-cutting measures, like furloughing workers and slashing their advertising budgets. As the pandemic stretched on, some of those job cuts have become permanent, with companies like Kohl's and Boeing announcing layoffs. The August unemployment rate was 8.4%, according to the Labor Department.

The gradual return of dividends and buybacks indicates growing confidence in the broader economy. But companies that are in more trouble will likely hold off on reinstating theirs in favor of holding onto their cash, according to Howard Silverblatt, senior index analyst at S&P Dow Jones Indices. 

"You've got to worry about your business — your employees, your sales, customers, where people are going to work, whether you're remote or not," Silverblatt said.  

Here's a list of companies that have laid off employees or permanently cut jobs during the pandemic and plan to return more cash to shareholders:

  • Accenture: The consulting firm said in late August it would lay off about 25,000 global employees, or about 5% of its total workforce. On Thursday, it announced it would expand its share buyback program by an additional $5 billion, bringing its total to $6.3 billion. 
  • Darden Restaurants: The company said Thursday it will pay out a dividend of 30 cents per share to shareholders. The same day, the Olive Garden parent said it had cut 11% of its corporate workforce — or about 225 workers — as part of a restructuring.
  • Foot Locker: The retailer reinstated its dividend in August after just one missed payment. In July, Foot Locker laid off or relocated 179 employees of its Eastbay brand, according to a notice filed with Wisconsin's Department of Workforce Development. 
  • Guess: Earlier this month, the company reinstated its dividend. It also said it permanently slashed its corporate headcount. Guess did not immediately respond to a request for comment from CNBC for more details on the job cuts.
  • Johnson Controls: In July, the company resumed its share buyback program. In its last two fiscal quarters, Johnson Controls has reduced its workforce. A company representative declined to share more details on the layoffs.
  • Winnebago Industries: The RV-maker's board approved a 9% increase to its quarterly dividend in August. In mid April, it laid off 79 employees. 
Global dividends have fallen but they are still to be found in some sectors
Global dividends have fallen but they are still to be found in some sectors