WSJ: US Corporate Cash Holdings Overseas Could Bite Earnings

Tuesday, 09 Oct 2012 08:18 AM

By Dan Weil

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Much has been made about the $1.5 trillion cash stash held by Standard & Poor’s 500 companies overseas.

That money is almost always cited as a positive for these companies — a positive they can’t utilize because they’d lose up to 35 percent of what they repatriate to taxes.

But there are several downsides to the foreign cash holdings, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Editor's Note: 'It’s Curtains for the US' — Hear Unapologetic Warning from Prophetic Economist.

Companies keeping cash overseas also are keeping some of their profits away from shareholders. So, the companies’ profits that go into their overseas investment accounts turn into "look, but don't touch earnings," Jack Ciesielski, editor of the Observer, said at a recent Senate hearing, The Journal reports.

U.S. companies can always repatriate profits. But if they don’t take an expense for future taxes when the overseas income was first earned, that could turn into a huge drag on earnings.

Microsoft noted recently that the unrecognized tax liability linked to its $60.8 billion of earnings sitting overseas would be $19.4 billion, more than the company's total profit for fiscal 2012.

There is plenty of opportunity for abuse, experts say. “Any company with intellectual property, whether it is software or how to make a drug, has the opportunity to assign the ownership to a foreign subsidiary in a tax haven," Robert McIntyre, director of Citizens for Tax Justice, tells AFP.

Technology companies have particularly large cash hordes overseas, with Apple holding more than $81 billion, Microsoft $54 billion, Google $43 billion and Cisco $42 billion.

Editor's Note: 'It’s Curtains for the US' — Hear Unapologetic Warning from Prophetic Economist.

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