Multinationals and the High Cash Holdings Puzzle

The Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation 2012-07-13


Editor’s Note: The following post comes to us from Lee Pinkowitz of the Department of Finance at Georgetown University; René Stulz, Professor of Finance at Ohio State University; and Rohan Williamson, Professor of Finance at Georgetown University.

In the paper, Multinationals and the High Cash Holdings Puzzle, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, we investigate whether the cash holdings of American companies are abnormally high after the financial crisis and whether these cash holdings can be explained by the theories summarized in the previous paragraph. We show that the extent to which cash holdings are unusually high after the crisis depends critically on the measure used. We would expect larger firms to hold more cash. Since corporate assets tend to grow over time, the dollar amount of cash holdings would grow even if the ratio of cash to assets stays constant. Consequently, at the very least, cash holdings should be measured relative to a firm’s assets. Using all non-financial and non-regulated public firms with assets and market capitalization greater than $5 million per year, the average cash/assets ratio is 20.18% in 2009-2010 compared to 20.50% in the 2004-2006 pre-crisis period. However, when we consider the median ratio, it is higher by 0.87% in 2009-2010 than in 2004-2006. Similarly, the asset-weighted ratio is higher by 0.74% in the recent period. The larger increase in the asset-weighted ratio than in the equally-weighted ratio suggests that large firms increased their holdings more and we show that this is the case. However, the changes in cash holdings from 2004-2006 to 2009-2010 are dwarfed by the changes in cash holdings from 1998-2000 to 2004-2006. Over that latter period, the average cash/assets ratio increases by 3.77%, the median by 6.39%, and the asset-weighted average by 3.62%. When we distinguish between private and public firms, we show that there is no evidence of an increase in the cash/assets ratio for private firms.

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academic research accounting & disclosure empirical research financial crisis r&d cash reserves rohan williamson lee pinkowitz multinationals rené stulz


R. Christopher Small, Co-editor, HLS Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation,

Date tagged:

07/13/2012, 15:40

Date published:

07/13/2012, 09:23