Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Corporate Treasurers Continue to Stockpile Cash

Around the world, corporations are awash in cash.

There is an estimated $1.9 trillion stashed in US corporate coffers, yet the dividend payout ratio for the S&P 500 is a meager 26%.

Numerous companies are sitting on cash stockpiles that are far in excess of any possible corporate use; Apple, for example, will have nearly $80 billion in cash by the middle of next year, yet does not pay a dividend.

So why are corporations continuing to raise cash at record rates?

Nearly $20 billion in new corporate debt issues came to market yesterday, and underwriters are looking to sell an additional $10 billion or more in this holiday-shortened week. Only one company - Amgen - has announced that it will be doing a stock buyback with the proceeds of its $6 billion offering. The rest apparently are just going to hold onto the cash.

According to CNBC:

If the corporate issuance this week surpasses $30 billion, it would be for the fourth time this year. The last was in May, when the week of May 20, issuance reached $35.97 billion. There have been 11 weeks of $30 billion plus issuance since April, 2008.


Corporate treasurers are justifiably nervous about the state of the credit markets. They remember all too well the credit crunch of 2008, when borrowing window slammed shut for all but the highest rated borrowers. Better to stash cash in Treasury bills - even at 0% interest rates - than to not be able to fund normal business operations.

And it's not likely that we will see a resurgence in M&A activity, even though it might make sense. Citing a survey from Fidelity International, here's an excerpt from another article on CNBC yesterday:

Companies' cautious outlook has also led firms to avoid growth through acquisitions, the survey said, adding however that conditions were right for a resurgence of M&A activity given strong balance sheets, low interest rates and attractive valuations.

Fidelity analysts said roughly 84 percent of companies they covered had either dismissed M&A entirely to drive growth or were only considering it on a small scale.

"That's because they are generally paralyzed with fear about what's going on in the world, and they don't really want to do anything with the cash," {one Fidelity analyst}said.

"They are worried that they may have to survive a six-month period where global liquidity freezes again."


With interest rates so low, huge positions in cash are not especially helpful to shareholders, but it appears that caution is outweighing investment considerations for the time being.