Treasurer Fear of Credit Freeze Seen in Cash Hoarding
Two years after credit markets seized up and caused the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, companies are hoarding the most cash in at least a decade.
“Every action we take or contemplate taking is measured by its impact on our balance sheet and liquidity,” Mark Jacobs, the chief executive officer of Houston-based RRI Energy Inc., told analysts and investors on Aug. 3. The company sold its Texas retail electricity business and the Reliant brand name in May, helping triple cash and equivalents from a year earlier to 18 percent of assets, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
Even as government reports show that the first global recession since World War II may be easing, corporate treasurers are raising cash as fast as they can, wary of losing access to capital. Corporate defaults reached 10.7 percent worldwide in July, the highest since 1991, according to Moody’s Investors Service. Credit markets that started to freeze in August 2007, have now triggered more than $1.5 trillion in writedowns and losses at the world’s biggest financial institutions.
Cash and short-term investments accounted for about $1.98 trillion, or 8.2 percent, of assets at the end of the second quarter for companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500index, up from about $1.6 trillion, or 6.4 percent, a year earlier, Bloomberg data show. Cash reached a record $2 trillion in the first quarter, 8.3 percent of assets.
“Cash is king,” said Paul Kasriel, the chief economist at Northern Trust Corp. in Chicago. “Businesses are in survival mode right now.”
While companies sold a record $837.9 billion of bonds this year and raised $109.8 billion in stock offerings, the increase in cash shows they are following the lead of consumers, who pushed the U.S. savings rate to a 14-year high of 6.2 percent in May.
“There’s going to be a generational psychology shift as to how you and I and the rest of the world think about finance,” said Jonathan Fine, a managing director on the investment-grade syndicate desk at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. in New York. “People will keep cash on hand so long as what happened in the last two years remains so visible in the rearview mirror.”
General Electric Co., the world’s biggest maker of power- plant turbines, increased cash and short-term investments at the fastest pace in 14 years in the second quarter, to $97.5 billion, or 12.5 percent of assets, from $64.9 billion, or 7.7 percent, a year earlier, Bloomberg data show. bloomberg.com
*here are more of your tax dollars at work. Banks hoarding cash they borrow at a DEEP discount from the Fed only to take and speculate on Bonds and Commodities. How about using it to writedown the losses you MUST take from our collapsed mortgages?