Corporate cash hoarders
Those financial gurus who delight in reading SEC filings the way the rest of us enjoy Clive Cussler have been telling us for several quarters now how our nation’s biggest companies are stockpiling cash.
The latest numbers state 5 percent of corporate assets are in cash, the highest level since 1961 and well above the norm of 3.8 percent.
Here in Georgia, the 15 biggest corporations are employing 8,700 fewer employees now than they were in 2007 despite those firms acquiring other companies in the interim, according to a study by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (click here to read the full story).
So why are they waiting to spend that money and grow? Because of the economic uncertainty, of course.
Be it Europe’s woes, the so-called fiscal cliff, the impact of Obamacare or just a general wariness in the wake of the recession, corporations are playing it safe. And at a time when borrowing is cheap, the supply of workers is high (giving companies some salary leverage), and state and local economic development authorities stand ready with incentives.
But then caution isn’t a bad thing. A little more caution in the mid-2000s would have – at the least – softened the blow of the recession.
The trick is to find the happy medium. We have a tendency as a society to overcorrect for snafus. We overcorrect one way and eventually overcorrect the other way and slowly bounce back and forth until we find that spot in the middle, almost by accident.
Complicating the situation for large corporations is stockholder expectations. No corporation wants to make a spending misstep where it doesn’t get a good return on investment and send today’s anxious investors into a tizzy. Better to sit on the money and make a modest but predictable return.
The guess here is companies will continue to take a slow and steady approach to growth. Better to cash flow expansion and keep those reserves strong than introduce too much risk. But the handful of companies that move aggressively to take advantage of the situation will see incredible returns.
That or crash and burn. Therein lays the dilemma.