‘Synthetic’ Cash Repatriation

Domestic debt and foreign cash balances rising hand-in-hand for many global businesses.

Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services reports that instead of repatriating overseas cash, more and more U.S.-based corporations are holding cash abroad to avoid taxes while issuing debt domestically. The 25 largest cash holders control 43 percent of all cash balances, but these organizations have been increasing their debt at a rate comparable to their cash growth. Moreover, the 15 largest cash holders that disclose their overseas balances increased only overseas cash in 2013; domestically, they issued a “matching” amount of debt, according to S&P.

“Cash balances have increased substantially over the past three years,” says Andrew Chang, a credit analyst with Standard & Poor’s. “Less discussed are the drivers of this cash growth. We found that rising debt played an important role among our rated issuers.

“Investors are demanding greater returns through share buybacks and dividends. With limited domestic cash flow generation, we believe companies are issuing debt as a form of synthetic cash repatriation to deliver shareholder returns. Without access to the accommodating credit markets, companies would likely not have provided the returns that shareholders have become accustomed to in recent years.”

Subscribers to the Standard & Poor’s RatingsDirect service can get more detail in the report “2014 Cash Update: Cheap Debt Fuels Record Cash Growth,” available through the company’s Global Credit Portal

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