Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) may be the company taking the most heat for hoarding cash, but it isn’t the only technology company doing it. Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB), Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) and others have also been stashing their cash for some time, but no one’s bothering them about it.
Researchers unveil corporate hoarding
John Plender of the Financial Times (via CNBC) reports that researchers from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis have found that as of the end of 2011, U.S. corporations were collectively hoarding nearly $5 trillion. He suggests that the massive size of this cash stash could have had something to do with sudden investor demand for safe assets and also the fall in interest rates leading up to the housing bubble in the U.S.
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And yet, other than Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOG), U.S. corporations have, for the most part, avoided the harsh criticism which has been heaped on countries like China, which now has more than $3.5 trillion in cash reserves.
What corporate savings means
According to Plender, corporate savings is made up of retained earnings and depreciation. State-owned companies in China were told not to distribute their profits for the last two decades. That would have pushed up retentions. Also without a developed financial market, companies are more reliant on internal financing than they would be in a market like the U.S.
Apple, Microsoft, Google others hoarding $340 billion
He estimates that together, Apple, Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT), Cisco Systems, Inc. (NASDAQ:CSCO), Oracle Corporation (NYSE:ORCL), QUALCOMM, Inc. (NASDAQ:QCOM) and Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB) are hoarding more than $340 billion. That’s almost a five-fold increase since 2000. He also notes that these companies have little to no debt. Apple’s liquidity increase alone is enough to raise eyebrows. It has surged from $24.5 billion five years ago to $129.8 billion now.
He then questions why the “most successful and innovative companies on the planet” are acting like scrooges during a time when the world is in the midst of a technological revolution. Almost everything is becoming digitized.
“How can there be inadequate investment opportunities to absorb all this money, much of which earns a negative real return?” he asks.
Retreating to the 1930s
Then he draws some comparisons with the 1930s, although at that time, the ones who were hoarding cash were individual entrepreneurs. Today he calls Apple and the other companies’ cash hoarding tendencies “a kind of corporate narcissism.” He also notes that corporate governance may play a role in these tendencies.
He said Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL), Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) and Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) are too big to have to deal with a hostile takeover. Also he says many tech companies employ a two-tier voting system so that founders can still have voting control even though they have a smaller amount of capital. As a result, they’re not really pressured to raise payouts for shareholders of their companies.
Hoarding cash for R&D?
The author suggests that the reason companies are sitting on so much cash is because technology is driven by human capital rather than financial capital. He also notes that the biggest hoarders are those which spend a lot on research and development. He believes that this will change and that all of this corporate hoarding is nothing but “a novel quirk in the workings of late capitalism.”