Stock buybacks are generally considered a bullish signal on Wall Street. They return capital to shareholders, while declaring management's belief that its own cheap shares are its best return on investment. As long as profits remain consistent, share repurchases can even increase earnings per share, by dividing the same amount of earnings among a smaller pool of shares outstanding.

Today, we'll draw up a list of companies that have announced stock buyback programs, then consult Motley Fool CAPS to see which of those firms the 110,000-strong investor community favors most. If CAPS' top investors endorse the prospects of companies announcing buybacks, Fools should take notice.

Here are some of the latest companies to announce share repurchase programs.

Company

Buyback Announcement Date

Amount of Buyback

CAPS Rating (out of 5)

CME Group (NYSE:CME)

June 23

$1.1 billion

****

REX Stores (NYSE:RSC)

June 23

500,000 shares

*

Kensey Nash

June 23

$10 million

**

Eastman Kodak (NYSE:EK)

June 24

$1 billion

*

AutoZone (NYSE:AZO)

June 26

 $500 million

***

Camden National

June 26

750,000 shares

***

Anheuser-Busch (NYSE:BUD)

June 27

$7 billion

****

Aetna (NYSE:AET)

June 27

$750 million

****

Sources: Company press releases; Motley Fool CAPS. NR = not rated.

Investors at CAPS appreciate this group of companies announcing buyback programs; most have received three-star or better ratings. Yet it should be noted that just because a company has announced a buyback program doesn't mean it has to follow through. A company is not obligated to repurchase shares just because it’s announced its intention to do so.

Buybacks have been partially fueled by the easy credit policies of the past few years. Companies didn't mind borrowing big bucks to repurchase their shares, even if they were trading at all-time highs. According to Dealogic, there was $538 billion in buybacks last year among S&P 500 companies, with $138 billion in the fourth quarter alone. Yet announced buybacks in the first quarter of 2008 have slumped to just $76 billion. With credit policies tight, we may see far fewer share repurchase programs in 2008 -- or more companies issuing shares to raise money.

The merchant of Chicago
CME Group runs the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and the Chicago Board of Trade, two of the world's biggest options and futures exchanges. Considering the run-up we've experienced in commodity prices, you'd think there would be a corresponding lofty market valuation for the boards on which these resources are traded. Yet since the beginning of the year, particularly after CME offered to buy rival NYMEX Holdings (NYSE:NMX), shares of both have fallen in tandem.

Top CAPS investors like All-Star rbgibbons find the depressed level of the stock a temporary situation that the boards' competitive advantages will narrow:

Exchanges have natural networking effects which provide a competitive advantage. CME's clearing house is a further competitive advantage. Over the long term, the economy should grow, which should help CME grow. Plus, there are opportunities in new markets and products like Credit Default Swaps. Today's price is compelling for a company with these sorts of competitive advantages.

I'll drink to that
InBev’s $50 billion offer for King of Beers Anheuser-Busch was unasked-for and unwanted, though far from unexpected. Motley Fool Inside Value recommendation Anheuser is not going “lite” in its effort to boost shareholder value, offering to buy back as much as $7 billion worth of stock.

Investors like CAPS player mdonlever think that whatever the short-term implications of the offer are, and even if competitors make some inroads into Bud's market share, the long-term trend for this American icon is up:

I didn't pick this stock solely for the sales figures, or the marketing, etc. I picked this stock because Anheuser-Busch and Budweiser are practically American Icons. I saw the article about "Will Micro-brews hurt BUD?", and I've got to say: Yes, they'll take marketshare away from BUD ... The gigantic corporate machine is virtually unstoppable, especially when it comes to popularity in beverages. Just look at [Coca-Cola]. [PepsiCo] can nip at Coke's heels all day, but Coke will just keep lumbering along, always in the lead.

Foolish fallout
You've heard from your fellow investors -- now it's your turn. Motley Fool CAPS is a completely free, fun service where more than 110,000 investors have their say every day. Sign up for CAPS today, and share your best pitch for why your favorite stock will beat or lag the market.