Why Do U.S. Firms Hold so Much More Cash than They Used to?

32 Pages Posted: 29 Sep 2006 Last revised: 3 Oct 2010

See all articles by Thomas W. Bates

Thomas W. Bates

Arizona State University - Department of Finance

Kathleen M. Kahle

University of Arizona - Department of Finance

René M. Stulz

Ohio State University (OSU) - Department of Finance; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); European Corporate Governance Institute (ECGI)

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: September 2006

Abstract

The average cash to assets ratio for U.S. industrial firms increases by 129% from 1980 to 2004. Because of this increase in the average cash ratio, American firms at the end of the sample period can pay back their debt obligations with their cash holdings, so that the average firm has no leverage when leverage is measured by net debt. This change in cash ratios and net debt is the result of a secular trend rather than the outcome of the recent buildup in cash holdings of some large firms. It is concentrated among firms that do not pay dividends. The average cash ratio increases over the sample period because the cash flow of American firms has become riskier, these firms hold fewer inventories and accounts receivable, and the typical firm spends more on R&D. The precautionary motive for cash holdings appears to explain the increase in the average cash ratio.

Suggested Citation

Bates, Thomas W. and Kahle, Kathleen M. and Stulz, Rene M., Why Do U.S. Firms Hold so Much More Cash than They Used to? (September 2006). NBER Working Paper No. w12534. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=932193

Thomas W. Bates

Arizona State University - Department of Finance ( email )

W. P. Carey School of Business
PO Box 873906
Tempe, AZ 85287-3906
United States

Kathleen M. Kahle

University of Arizona - Department of Finance ( email )

McClelland Hall
P.O. Box 210108
Tucson, AZ 85721-0108
United States
520-621-7489 (Phone)

Rene M. Stulz (Contact Author)

Ohio State University (OSU) - Department of Finance ( email )

2100 Neil Avenue
Columbus, OH 43210-1144
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.cob.ohio-state.edu/fin/faculty/stulz

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

European Corporate Governance Institute (ECGI)

c/o ECARES ULB CP 114
B-1050 Brussels
Belgium

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