Which Companies Hoarded The Most Cash In 2013?
At the end of its 2013 fiscal year, Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) listed $40.59 billion in cash, cash equivalents and marketable securities on its balance sheet. That's roughly equivalent to General Motors' (NYSE: GM) expected revenue for the fourth quarter.
Apple's cash position gets even bigger if one adds in its inventory of long-term marketable securities. That brings the total to nearly $147 billion. And here's what makes the total so amazing. It represents 86 percent of the company's revenue and nearly 71 percent of Apple's total assets.
Apple is hardly alone among non-financial companies in its gigantic holdings of cash and securities. Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) listed $79.3 billion just in cash and cash equivalents at the end of its September quarter, the first of its 2014 fiscal year. That was 56 percent of assets. Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) had $54.7 billion in cash and equivalents at the end of September -- 52 percent of assets.
And, for non-financial Corporate America, the cash is piling up.
The third quarter saw corporate cash hit a new high -- $1.25 trillion. That was a fifth straight quarterly record, according to Howard Silverblatt, senior index analyst at S&P Dow Jones.
The top 19 companies were holding on to $595.5 billion, up 21.5 percent from the end of 2012. And that doesn't include Apple's inventory of marketable securities.
All this cash is building up despite larger dividends, stock buybacks, special dividends and the like.
A record $300 billion in dividends will be paid out this year. But the average corporate payout ratio this year has been 36 percent; the historical average is 53 percent.
Apple paid out $10.5 billion in dividends alone in its 2013 fiscal year and sold $17 billion in bonds earlier this year. Its cash hoard grew by $25 billion from the end of its 2012 fiscal year. Small wonder that Apple has become a target of Carl Icahn, the investor who's become a billionaire with aggressive bids to restructure companies.
The why for the buildup is due to several factors.
An important issue is fear, Silverblatt says. Politicians grumble that corporate bosses are just sitting on cash and letting their stock prices rise but aren't investing in new plants in equipment at home.
But many executives don't believe that new investments will pay off quickly enough... "They're not sure they can sell all the widgets," he said in an interview. And managements are not hired simply to spend without thinking. "Just because you have it doesn't mean you have to spend it."
There are exceptions: Automakers are adding shifts and reopening plants.
But, the demand appears to be real.
A second factor is a sort of tax dispute. U.S. companies keep gobs of cash -- profits from non-U.S. operations -- in offshore accounts. They won't bring the money back to, say, New York, Seattle or Cupertino because it would be subject to the 35 percent U.S. corporate income tax rate. Better to keep it in Ireland or Luxembourg, where corporate tax rates are far lower.
A third reason is that many companies like Apple, Microsoft, Google and Cisco Systems (NASDAQ: CSCO) are so profitable that the cash just builds up. Others like Pfizer (NYSE: PFE) and Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ) need large supplies of funds to finance research or make acquisitions to replace aging drugs.
Some companies had cash on their books on Sept. 30 and then promptly spent it or will spend it soon. Case in point: In early September, Verizon Communications (NYSE: VZ) raised $49 billion to buy out Vodafone (NASDAQ: VOD) stake in Verizon Wireless. So it listed cash of $54 billion at the end of September. Moreover, with record-low interest rates, companies have been selling record amounts of debt.
How long the cash buildup will last will depend in large part on the domestic and global economies.
Many economists believe 2014 could see some real growth that would give companies the all-clear signal to start investing with the confidence of a payoff. In the meantime, Silverblatt says, investors shouldn't demand that managements make investments they don't believe in.
|The biggest holders of cash among non-financial S&P 500 companies|
|Cash at Sept. 30||Cash as % of market cap||Cash as % of assets|
|Johnson & Johnson||$25,228||9.86%||19.88%|
* Apple also had $106.2 million in long-term marketable securities at the end of its fiscal year. Total cash, cash equivalents and marketable securities totalled $146.67 billion.
Source: S&P Dow Jones
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