AstraZeneca Suspends Share Buybacks   

LONDON -- AstraZeneca (LSE: AZN.L  ) (NYSE: AZN  ) has dropped 32 pence, or 1%, to 2,923 pence so far this week after announcing the suspension of its share buyback program on Monday.

Pascal Soriot, chief executive of the FTSE 100 firm, said: 

As I assume my new responsibilities at AstraZeneca, I believe this is a prudent step that maintains flexibility while the Board and I complete the company's ongoing annual strategy update.

Mr. Soriot wasted no time making the decision. The announcement was made at 2 p.m. on his first day as group boss.

Mr. Soriot also confirmed that AstraZeneca had completed net share repurchases of $2.3 billion during 2012. The company's target for the year had been $4.5 billion.

The decision to suspend the buybacks follows substantial expenditure and inconclusive benefits to shareholders.

Indeed, the pharma group spent $6 billion on share buybacks last year to increase the expenditure seen since 2000 to almost $27 billion. 

However, the firm's 2011 annual report indicates the average price per share paid since 2000 has been about 30 pounds, while figures from Bloomberg indicate the average market price throughout the same time was less than 28 pounds.

Indeed, the only year AstraZeneca did not make any share repurchases since 2000 was 2008, when the banking crash sent the price plunging to a bargain 17 pounds.

Still, Mr. Soriot did say this week that AstraZeneca's core earnings target range for 2012 would be maintained at $6.00 to $6.30 per share. That range puts the shares on a near-term P/E of 8.

And assuming the expenditure saved on buybacks can help sustain the dividend at $2.80 per share, AstraZeneca's stock currently yields 6%.

Right now, AstraZeneca is just one of a number of FTSE large caps that offers a dividend income well ahead of what you can expect to receive from a standard savings account.

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