Companies flush with cash remain reluctant to hire or make capital purchases, choosing to reward investors rather than expand their businesses.
Recent economic data exemplify the trend: Private payrolls grew by just 135,000 during May, according to ADP, while employment components both for the Institute of Supply Management's manufacturing and nonmanufacturing indexes show a flat jobs outlook.
The grim hiring prospects come as nonfinancial firms hold nearly $1.8 trillion in cash on their balance sheets.
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Rather than look to expand, though, they've chosen to participate in aggressive share buybacks and dividend increases to reward investors.
According to TrimTabs, companies have spent $290.7 billion this year on buybacks, which are aimed at decreasing the amount of available shares—or float—thus driving up stock prices.
That effort, at least, has been a success.
The Standard & Poor's 500 has gained more than 13 percent in 2013, led by big gains in financials and health care stocks.
Worried about growth prospects, S&P 500 companies have been passing out dividend payments with a free hand as well, rewarding shareholders with a record $37.5 billion thus far, rather than hiring.
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