El-Erian Says Corporations Prefer Buy-Backs to New Investments

Mohamed El-Erian writing for the Guardian

Those looking for ways to reduce the risks of inadequate growth agree that, of all possible solutions, increased business investment can make the biggest difference. And many medium-size and large companies, having recovered impressively from the huge shock of the 2008 global financial crisis and subsequent recession, now have the wherewithal to invest in new plants, equipment, and hiring.

Indeed, with profitability at or near record levels, cash holdings by the corporate sector in the United States have piled up quarter after quarter, reaching all-time highs – and earning very little at today’s near-zero interest rates. Moreover, because companies have significantly improved their operating efficiency and lengthened the maturities on their debt, they need a lot less precautionary savings than they did in the past.

However one looks at it, the corporate sector in advanced economies in general, and in the US in particular, is as strong as it has been in many years. Non-financial firms have achieved a mix of resilience and agility that contrasts sharply with prevailing conditions for some households and governments around the world that have yet to confront adequately a legacy of over-leverage.

But, rather than deploy their abundant cash in new investments to expand capacity and tap new markets – which they have been very hesitant to do since the global financial crisis erupted – many companies have so far preferred (or have been pressured by activist investors) to give it back to shareholders.

Last year alone, US companies authorised more than $600bn of share buybacks – an impressive amount by any measure, and a record high. Moreover, many companies boosted their quarterly dividend payouts to shareholders. Such activity continued in the first two months of 2014.

This article is for general information purposes only. It is not investment advice or a solution to buy or sell securities. Opinions are the authors; not necessarily that of OANDA Corporation or any of its affiliates, subsidiaries, officers or directors. Leveraged trading is high risk and not suitable for all. You could lose all of your deposited funds.

Alfonso Esparza

Alfonso Esparza

Senior Currency Analyst at Market Pulse
Alfonso Esparza specializes in macro forex strategies for North American and major currency pairs. Upon joining OANDA in 2007, Alfonso Esparza established the MarketPulseFX blog and he has since written extensively about central banks and global economic and political trends. Alfonso has also worked as a professional currency trader focused on North America and emerging markets. He has been published by The MarketWatch, Reuters, the Wall Street Journal and The Globe and Mail, and he also appears regularly as a guest commentator on networks including Bloomberg and BNN. He holds a finance degree from the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education (ITESM) and an MBA with a specialization on financial engineering and marketing from the University of Toronto.
Alfonso Esparza