- Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein launched volleys at each other via Twitter on Tuesday.
- Blankfein criticized a recent op-ed from Sanders and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer that proposed limitations on the ability for corporations to buy back their stock.
- Sanders hit back at Blankfein, arguing that stock buybacks simply enriched wealthy people like the former Goldman CEO.
Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein got tangled up in a Twitter fight on Tuesday over a recent op-ed from the Vermont lawmaker.
At issue was Sanders’ and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s recent New York Times op-ed that criticized the practice of stock buybacks.
In his first tweet in roughly half a year, Blankfein criticized Sanders’ and Schumer’s proposal to limit the use of buybacks by corporations.
“A company used to be encouraged to return money to shareholders when it couldn’t reinvest in itself for a good return,” the former Goldman CEO said. “The money doesn’t vanish, it gets reinvested in higher growth businesses that boost the economy and jobs. Is that bad?”
Buybacks, the practice of companies purchasing their own shares from the open market to drive up the value for the remaining investors, have been a particular focus of Democratic criticism since the GOP’s recent tax cut law. In fact, the amount of money spent on buybacks by S&P 500 firms hit a record high in 2018.
Sanders and Schumer argued that the money spent on buybacks is unproductive and should instead go to workers or capital investments. In the op-ed, the senators proposed a plan to limit buybacks unless a company hit certain requirements including paying $15 an hour to workers and providing seven days of paid sick leave.
Blankfein’s argument is that companies usually do buybacks when they do not see another productive use for their cash on hand, either a capital investment like a new factory or new hiring. But, in Blankfein’s line of thinking, that doesn’t mean that the money disappears.
Instead, the cash is distributed to the shareholders from which the company buys back its stock. Meanwhile, the repurchases reduce the number of overall shares outstanding, which is accretive to investors who retain their shares of the company.
If those investors elect to cash in and sell shares, they can then, in turn, use those proceeds on a wide variety of things. That means everything from purchasing goods to investing in other companies. As the argument goes, by giving the money back to the shareholders who can then find a more productive use for the funds, companies aren’t squashing productivity. They’re instead helping the cash find the most productive use.
And, as others have suggested, just because a firm buys back their stocks does not mean the company is not also making capital investments or raising wages.
Following the tweet, Sanders shot back with a reply of his own.
“Lloyd Blankfein, the former CEO of Goldman Sachs, is correct that the money from stock buybacks ‘doesn’t vanish.’ It increases the wealth of billionaires like him,” Sanders said. “Instead of making the very rich even richer, how about increasing wages for American workers. Is that a bad idea?”
As Sanders and Schumer pointed out, the large majority of stocks are owned by the wealthiest Americans so the direct benefit of buybacks are going to a select few. Additionally, as Sanders appears to argue, it is unclear just how the proceeds of the buybacks are used. Whether the cash actually makes it to workers or other uses that would boost the broader economy is unclear.
Sanders and Blankfein seem like natural adversaries given the senator’s long-standing criticisms of Wall Street banks. The two also traded barbs during Sanders’ unsuccessful run for the Democratic nomination in the 2016 election.