Tags: companies | hoarding | cash

Companies Hoarding $811 Billion in Cash

By Julie Crawshaw   |   Tuesday, 17 Mar 2009 10:37 AM

The non-financial firms in the Standard & Poor's 500-stock index — there are 419 of them — are sitting on $811 billion in cash and marketable securities right now.

Of them, 168 have at least $1 billion in cash apiece, and 16 have more than $10 billion each.

That's just shy of a record high in nominal terms — and up $43 billion from the depths of the financial crisis last fall, The Wall Street Journal reports.

The question becomes: When that panic subsides, where will the money go? Back to shareholders, or to acquisitions and new products?

Or will it just be wasted on white elephant projects and boondoggles?

High balances like these do investors a huge disservice because the returns on idle cash are low. Corporations normally are obligated to use cash productively to benefit shareholders.

Nevertheless, tough credit times and sheer panic has driven cash higher on balance sheets.

Over the past 12 months, companies with high cash balances, mostly in the technology sector, have shown bigger gains than the S&P 500 by about 7 percent, excluding financial stocks.

However, over the long run, companies with the biggest cash stashes have underperformed those with the lowest amount of cash by an average of 0.3 percent per month.

Managers of companies with large cash reserves sometimes take bigger risks while their rivals are weaker, resulting in lavish capital spending and, possibly, lower future returns.

Hoarding cash is hardly limited to companies these days, notes PIMCO co-CEO Mohamed El-Arian.

"The precautionary behavior of every entity in the global economy has gone up," he told Newsweek.

"We've gone from an age of entitlement to an age of thrift."

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The non-financial firms in the Standard & Poor's 500-stock index — there are 419 of them — are sitting on $811 billion in cash and marketable securities right now.Of them, 168 have at least $1 billion in cash apiece, and 16 have more than $10 billion each.That's just shy of...
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