You’ve probably heard that corporate America is swimming in cash. Something like $4 trillion worth of it. And once corporate America starts spending it, the economy will boom again, jobs will be created, GNP will soar and the stock market will boom ever higher.
Corporate cash is the good news. Corporate debt is the bad news.
While cash is at record levels, corporate debt now exceeds the level it was at in 2008 and 2009. In case your memory is really short, that’s when America was wondering whether its financial system would survive.
But temper your nostalgia for those bad old days. When we say “exceeds,” we mean that corporate debt is 35% higher than it was then.
Net debt – what you get when you subtract cash from total debt – has been climbing steadily for American companies since 1998, as the chart shows. It doesn’t mean corporate America is insolvent (not yet, anyway), but it does have nasty implications for future corporate growth, profitability, unemployment and income growth.
Given all of that cash on hand, some are making heady predictions about accelerating capital expenditures. Goldman Sachs’ David Kostin predicted that capex spending will grow 9% in 2014, compared with 2% growth in 2013.
He may be right, given the need to replace aging and outmoded equipment, but a prediction is only a prediction. And more capex spending will mean less cash for paying down corporate debt.