Are dividend changes and share repurchases a good predictor of future changes in earnings?

Mtshali, Nompilo
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The study examined whether: share repurchase events and changes in dividends were good predictors of future changes in earnings. The research also investigated how the South African market reacted to share repurchase events in the short-run. Using INET BFA, data for 226 dividend paying companies and 55 share repurchasing companies, trading on the JSE during the period 2003 to 2013, was collected. Dividend theory suggests that changes in dividends convey information content about the future earnings of the firm. After testing this theory, limited support was found for this notion. Firms that had increased dividends at (T0) showed significant earnings increases in that year. Nonetheless, some of the dividend increasing firms showed no subsequent unexpected earnings growth at (T1) and (T2). While the size of the dividend increase had a strong positive relationship with current earnings; it failed to predict future earnings with any consistency. Firms that had cut dividends at (T0) experienced a reduction in earnings in that year but showed increases in earnings at (T1). However, consistent with Lintner‘s (1956) model on dividend policy, firms that had increased their dividends were less likely to experience a reduction in earnings, as opposed to the no-change or dividend decrease groups. A linear regression model was employed in testing whether share repurchases were useful in predicting changes in future earnings. According to the results reported in the regression model, share repurchases are a good predictor of future changes in earnings. The study at hand then went on to explore how the South African market reacted to share repurchases. Through the utilisation of the Market Model-Event Study Methodology (with an event window of 41 days, 20 days prior and 20 days post the event), the findings of the report indicated that the South African market reacted positively to share repurchases. This was evidenced through positive: share price returns, abnormal returns and average abnormal returns, post the event. Nonetheless, cumulative average abnormal returns remained negative in the short-run. In addition, the results showed that firms engage in share repurchase activities in order to signal that the stock is undervalued. There was an observable trend of declining share prices before the share repurchase event. A few recommendations were proposed following the results obtained. Dividends are unable to predict changes in earnings. Therefore, a dividend cut, is not an indication that a company‘s earnings will decrease in the future or that the managers of that company foresee a decline in future earnings. From a share repurchase point of view, managers of JSE listed companies should not only focus on the short-term benefits of share repurchase events. These benefits are generally short lived as shares do return to their falling state, however authors such as Wesson, Muller and Ward (2014) have shown that the benefits of share repurchase events can also be observed in the long- run, A further point to note for both investors and managers of JSE listed companies is that share repurchases are a good predictor of future earnings. Therefore, it is very confusing for investors when a company announces a share repurchase event but does not follow through with it.
A research report submitted to the Faculty of Commerce, Law and Management, University of the Witwatersrand in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Commerce in Finance. Johannesburg, South Africa March 2016
Mtshali, Nompilo (2016) Are dividend changes and share repurchases a good predictor of future changes in earnings? University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, <>