Shareholders make money in Top This is my Halloween Costume shirt two ways, growth in the value of the stock and distributions (typically dividends). Dividends are the companies literally handing shareholders money. Buybacks are like dividends in that they let companies convert cash on hand to value for shareholders, but instead of giving them money, they buy shares off the market. The remaining shares now represent a larger ownership stake and are more valuable. Hence their asking for favorable loans from the government to avoid those losses
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The reason companies are doing Top This is my Halloween Costume shirt buybacks instead of dividends is that they allow shareholders to realize their gains later, which can be better from a tax perspective, and they can make the companies financials look better since they’ve basically invested in themselves (they can issue shares later, basically reselling the shares the bought). That’s the situation that the airline industry is finding itself in now- they bought back a significant amount of their stock at a much higher price than what it’s currently trading at. If they sell their treasury now then they’ll get fucked by the massive loss they’ll take from the buyback.