NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Multinationals and the High Cash Holdings Puzzle

Lee Pinkowitz, René M. Stulz, Rohan Williamson

NBER Working Paper No. 18120
Issued in June 2012
NBER Program(s):   CF

Defining as normal cash holdings the holdings a firm with the same characteristics would have had in the late 1990s, we find that the abnormal cash holdings of U.S. firms after the crisis represent on average 1.86% of assets. While U.S. firms held less cash than comparable foreign firms in the late 1990s, by 2010 they hold more. However, only U.S. multinational firms experience an increase in abnormal cash holdings during the 2000s. U.S. multinational firms had cash holdings similar to those of purely domestic firms in the late 1990s, but they hold over 3% more assets in cash than comparable purely domestic firms after the crisis. Further, U.S. multinationals increased their cash holdings since the late 1990s relative to foreign multinationals by roughly the same percentage as they increased their cash holdings relative to U.S. domestic firms. A detailed analysis shows that the increase in cash holdings of multinational firms cannot be explained by the tax treatment of profit repatriations, that it is intrinsically linked to their R&D intensity, and that firms that become multinational do not increase their abnormal cash holdings after they become multinational. There is no evidence that poor investment opportunities, regulation, or poor governance can explain the abnormal cash holdings of U.S. firms after the crisis.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w18120

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