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Companies wait and see with cash in hand

Oct. 4, 2010 at 12:57 PM   |   Comments

NEW YORK, Oct. 4 (UPI) -- The stockpile of cash held by U.S. corporations has grown sharply since mid-2008 but it has not benefited the economy or workers, economists said.

The run-up of cash has been available with Federal Reserve Bank interest rates so low that corporations can issue bonds at rates even less than 1 percent, which still beats the Fed's overnight lending rate of zero to 0.25 percent.

"They are benefiting themselves by borrowing and keeping this cash, but is not benefiting the economy yet," The New York Times quoted Credit Suisse economist Dana Saporta as saying Monday.

Barclays Capital economist Michael Gapen told the Times, "They may actually be using this new investment to be more efficient and cut jobs. The mix of signals right now is still telling corporations to sit tight and wait."

Corporations are now holding onto $1.6 trillion in cash, which is above 6 percent of their total assets. Earlier this year, the ratio ran up to 6.2 percent, the highest it has been since 1964.

Corporate spending for software and equipment has increased this year compared to a year ago but some of that spending is attributed to playing catch-up, given spending on equipment was so low a year ago.

Spending on jobs is slow, in part due to high levels of unemployment, which means investing in labor for increased production may put corporate spending ahead of the consumers' ability to turn that into investment into corporate profits. As such, the economy waits for jobs and corporations wait for the economy to show signs of improvement before investing in more jobs.

"They are still holding on to more cash in the same way that Noah built the ark," said Gluskin Sheff & Associates chief economist David Rosenberg.

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