The rising cash holdings of U.S. corporations is increasingly in the hands of a few U.S. companies, with just five tech firms having grabbed a third of it. And nearly three-quarters of cash held by non-financial U.S. companies is stashed overseas outside the long arm of Uncle Sam.
Apple, Microsoft, Alphabet, Cisco System and Oracle are sitting on $504 billion, or 30%, of the $1.7 trillion in cash and cash equivalents held by U.S. non-financial companies in 2015, according to an analysis released Friday by ratings agency Moody’s Investors Service. That’s even more cash concentration in previous years, as these five companies held 27% of cash in 2014 and 25% in 2013. Apple alone is holding more cash and investments than eight of the 10 entire industry sectors.
Corporate America’s rising pile of cash is becoming increasingly important to investors as profit growth and the stock market stalls. The amount of cash held by U.S. companies rose 1.8% in 2015. Unfortunately for U.S. investors, 72% of total cash held by all non-financial U.S. companies is stockpiled outside the U.S., up from 64% in 2014 and 58% in 2013 as companies try to avoid paying U.S. tax rates.
Investors are eyeing companies’ growing cash piles as potential sources of dividend increases to maintain fat returns even if stock prices continue to go nowhere. Dividends rose 4% last year to a record high of $404 billion, while companies cut back on capital spending by 3% to $885 billion. Capital spending is the cash companies put into new plants and equipment with the hopes of driving higher profits in the future.