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Report: U.S. Companies Hoarded More Cash in 2016, Spent Less

July 24, 2017, 08:01 AM
Filed Under: Economic Commentary

The amount of cash held by US non-financial companies totaled $1.84 trillion at the end of 2016, up 9.2% from $1.68 trillion at the end of 2015, Moody's Investors Service says in a new report. The top-five cash hoarders all come from the technology sector, with Apple holding a record high of $246.1 billion.

"The technology sector today holds the most cash among US non-financial companies, accounting for 47% of the total, followed by healthcare/pharmaceuticals, consumer products, and energy," said Richard Lane, Moody's Senior Vice President. "The top five most cash-flush companies -- Apple, Microsoft, Google, Cisco and Oracle -- now hold 32% of the total, with Apple by itself accounting for 13.4%."

The latest increase in cash comes despite an overall decline in revenue and cash flow from operations, adds Lane. Reflecting a low growth global economic environment, still-challenging conditions in the energy, metals, and mining industries, and modest foreign-exchange headwinds, revenue fell 5.3% to $10.2 trillion in 2016. Meanwhile, cash flow from operations dropped 5.8% to $1.45 trillion.

However, capital spending declined by 18% to $727 billion, dragged down by the beleaguered energy sector. Acquisition spending fell by 2% to $393 billion last year, while net share buybacks slid 21% to $212 billion, helping corporate cash to pile up. At the same time, dividend payments decreased 4.5% to $386 billion on the back of a 35% decline in energy sector payouts.

Joining the list of 50 most cash-flush companies requires $6.12 billion of cash, about even with last year, but up from $6.07 billion in 2014 and $2.9 billion in 2007, Moody's says. Investment-grade companies today hold $1.6 trillion in cash, or 87% of the total, up from $1.4 trillion, or 87%, in 2015. Issuers with single-A ratings represent 29.5% of the total, the largest percentage among all rating categories.

Moody's estimates cash held overseas amounted to $1.3 trillion, or 70% of the total cash pile in 2016, up from its estimate of $1.2 trillion, or 72% of the total in 2015. This amount reflects the negative tax consequences of permanently repatriating money to the US, as well as the use of domestic cash for dividends, share buybacks and the majority of acquisitions.

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