Credit & Capital

Companies Build Up Cash Holdings — Again

A conservative approach to deploying cash continued in the second quarter, extending a trend of many years' duration.
David McCannJuly 30, 2019

For the 34rd quarter in the past 35, in the second quarter more companies increased than decreased their cash and short-term investment holdings, according to the Association for Finance Professionals.

In the latest quarterly AFP Corporate Cash Indicators Survey, which polled 168 senior treasury and finance professionals, the index reading was +8.

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The index reflects the percentage of participants who said their cash and short-term investments increased in the quarter (36%), minus the percentage who said such holdings decreased (28%).

The results showed that companies grew more conservative in the second quarter, on average. In the first quarter, the index reading was +3.

The second-quarter result was generally in line with companies’ expectations heading into the quarter, which historically has often not been the case.

“Despite strong employment numbers and a tight job market, business leaders continued their reluctance to deploy cash and short-term investments,” said AFP chief executive Jim Katz. “The threats of a trade war with China, escalating immigration issues at the U.S. border, and a looming Brexit are contributing to the unease of treasury and finance professionals.”

Looking ahead, survey participants saw more of the same. Asked about their expectations for cash deployment over the summer, in this year’s third quarter, participants’ responses added up to an index reading of +12.

“Treasurers and CFOs need to remain diligent when it comes to managing their cash positions, including finding the right balance between building reserves as a hedge against uncertainty and deploying funds to take advantage of strategic opportunities, while also factoring in changes to the yield curve,” said Kevin Kane, head of U.S. treasury and payment solutions at Chicago-based BMO Harris Bank.

On an industry-by-industry basis in this year’s second quarter, the manufacturing sector was the most conservative, with an index of +26, followed by banking/financial services at +10.

The least conservative industries were telecommunications/media and petroleum, at +1. Agriculture/forestry/fishing/hunting, administrative support/business services consulting, and real estate/rental/leasing were all at +2.

However, despite the continued cash build-up, the trend isn’t nearly as pronounced as it has been for much of time since AFP began collecting this data, in January 2011.

The highest-ever index reading (+32) was recorded in that first Corporate Cash Indicators survey, which measured companies’ propensity for cash deployment in the fourth quarter of 2010.

In 22 of the 35 quarters for which AFP has conducted the survey, the index reading has been in the double digits on the plus side. From the third quarter of 2016 through the first quarter of 2018, the index never fell below +15.

The sole negative index reading in the 35 measured quarters, indicating that more companies decreased than increased their cash and short-term investments, was the -1 registered for the first quarter of 2016.