Companies in the S&P 500 bought back $806 billion of their own stock in 2018, well ahead of 2017's $519 billion, preliminary data from S&P Dow Jones Indices show. A key driver to the surge was declining equity prices during the year, particularly in the third and fourth quarters. Apple was again the top purchaser, with $74.2 billion in buybacks, or 9.2% of the 2018 total. The information technology sector had the most buybacks across the major index sectors with a total $278 billion of share purchases; Apple's buybacks were 27% of that. Oracle and Microsoft were also big spenders, buying $29.3 billion and $16.3 billion of their own equity, respectively.
The buyback surge drove the collective buyback yield of the index to 3.83%, its highest since 2015's 3.2%, when most equities across the index were flat or negative. Combined with dividends, the total yield of the index companies' cash output was 6%.