Expanding cash stockpiles at Apple Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Alphabet Inc. helped companies sock away another $100 billion dollars overseas, propelling the pile of money U.S. corporations keep offshore to a new peak in 2016, reports The Wall Street Journal.
Cash held by U.S. non-financial companies notched its largest increase, 9.2%, to set a fresh record of $1.84 trillion at the end of 2016, according to a report from Moody’s Investors Service. Moody’s estimates that roughly 70% of total corporate cash, or a record $1.3 trillion, is held overseas.
“The cash held offshore continues to grow because of U.S. tax policy,” said Richard Lane, senior vice president at Moody’s and an author of the report.
Finance chiefs who oversee companies with overseas profits must pay the difference between lower offshore tax rates and the higher U.S. rate in order to bring the money home, Mr. Lane said.
“Most CFOs are loathe to do that for good financial sense,” Mr. Lane said.
Apple Inc. continued its reign as the cash king into the eighth straight year. The technology company’s $246 billion cash balance accounted for 13% of the total cash held by non-financial companies. The majority of Apple’s cash, about 94%, is held overseas.
Apple, Microsoft, Alphabet, Cisco Systems Inc. and Oracle Corp. — all part of the technology sector — were the top five cash hoarders, unchanged from a year earlier. As a group they held $594 billion, or 32% of the total cash balance.
Spokeswomen from Apple, Alphabet, Oracle and Cisco declined to comment. A spokesman from Microsoft also declined to comment.
Several large U.S. companies, including Apple and Alphabet have had run-ins with European regulators over their tax strategies. European authorities last year attempted to clawback EUR 13 billion ($14.5 billion) in taxes from Apple.
However the company is still looking for ways to repatriate its cash and chief executive Tim Cook been vocal about getting the U.S. to lower its tax rate.
“I am optimistic, given what I’m hearing, that there would likely be some sort of tax reform this year,” Mr. Cook said on the company’s January earnings call. “I think that’s very good for the country and good for Apple.”
To compensate for the paucity of cash on hand in the U.S., many companies have taken advantage the low interest rate environment to tap the domestic debt markets.
“Companies can borrow money in the U.S. that they need to help support dividends or share buybacks or acquisitions,” Mr. Lane said. “That’s why you’ve seen a number of companies with large cash balances and large offshore cash balances go to the debt markets in the U.S. over the last several years,” Mr. Lane said.
That state of affairs is unlikely to change in the near future, Mr. Lane said Wednesday.
“Given the current state of legislative deadlock in Washington, there is little likelihood that tax reform will be passed this year,” he said. “And as a result we believe these large companies will continue to need to issue debt in the U.S. to support their broad spending requirements.”