BALTIMORE ( Stockpickr) -- $250 billion. That's how much JPMorgan's (JPM) Thomas Lee expects companies in the S&P 500 to return to shareholders in 2012 in the form of dividends and share buybacks. That's would be a record amount of cash being shoveled back to shareholders this year -- and Lee's estimate is on the low side.
There are a lot of factors that support increased payouts to continue in 2012. Firms have record cash on hand right now -- S&P firms alone have $1 trillion in the bank -- and payout ratios trail their historical averages. So it stands to reason that investors could find more cash flowing their way over the course of this calendar year.
As far as returns are concerned, that's a big deal.