Last updated: August 17, 2011 - 8:50am
In an analyst report in May, JPMorgan Chase estimated that 519 American multinational corporations had $1.375 trillion outside the United States. The problem is particularly acute among technology companies, which historically tend to hoard cash because of the cyclical nature of their business. Tax policy is driving much of this trend. For multinational corporations, cash earned abroad cannot easily be remitted to the United States. If it is paid back to the United States, it is subject to a dividend tax that can rise to as much as 35 percent. Companies are loath to pay this tax because while they can offset it with taxes paid abroad, the companies still end up paying a relatively high tax rate. Yet it is not just a tax issue. Many United States companies want to keep cash abroad to focus on high-growth regions for investments and acquisitions.
Apple has a cash problem. It’s not just that Apple has too much cash, $76 billion as of June 30. It’s rather that the bulk of that pile, estimated at $41 billion, is held abroad. Apple does not want to bring it back to the United States for several reasons, primarily because of the tax consequences, but also because of its own growing foreign presence. Apple is not alone — this problem is an increasing one in corporate America. And the answer may not be more big, all-cash acquisitions, like Google’s $12.5 billion offer for Motorola Mobility. A recent Moody’s report noted that Microsoft held $42 billion abroad, or more than 80 percent of its cash. Cisco Systems has $38.8 billion, or almost 90 percent of its cash. Google — at least before Monday’s deal — had nearly $40 billion in cash, with more than 43 percent of it held abroad.
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