Businesses Hoarding Cash - Is It Any Wonder Why?

As the Obama economy keeps stumbling about like a drunken bar fly, businesses are holding on to increasing amounts of cash in the anticipation of worse things to come. It's not just large businesses doing so, but businesses across the board. As the WSJ piece linked above states, they have good reasons to do so.

The cash buildup [~$1.9 trillion] shows the deep caution many companies feel about investing in expansion while the economic recovery remains painfully slow and high unemployment and battered household finances continue to limit consumers' ability to spend.

The buildup has a big downside for companies, which get little return on their money because interest rates are low, but it reflects the relatively few opportunities they see to deploy their cash more creatively.

Why should any business use their cash reserves when the economic climate is so uncertain? Ironically, it is Obama's economic policies creating so much of the uncertainty, with looming tax changes, new nearly undecipherable regulations, and hostile anti-business rhetoric spewing forth from both the White House and a redistributionist Congress. When the risks far outweigh any possible rewards for using their cash, they'll hold on to it rather than spend it.

After the dot-bomb debacle in 2000, many companies became more financially conservative, putting aside more cash and depending less on equity debt, meaning loans. (Ford Motors is one of the biggest examples of this movement as it greatly reduced its debt, cut operating costs, and put aside large amounts of cash. It's the reason why it didn't suffer the fate of GM and Chrysler, both of which found themselves insolvent when their debt far outweighed their ability to pay it off.)

Businesses that have so far survived the Great Recession haven't been spending to expand or hire, instead making use of what they already have to meet any increases in demand. It's safer for them to pay their existing employees overtime than to hire new ones. If the economy takes a turn for the worse they won't have to lay off their new employees. Instead they'll do away with the overtime. It's cheaper.

While there have been some calls by economic ignoramuses for government intervention to force the cash fat businesses to start spending their money, such a move could backfire and deepen the recession as those businesses would find other ways to keep hold of their cash, even if it means moving it elsewhere.

Every time the government intervenes in the economy, short-circuiting market forces, the economy suffers for it. As I have mentioned to more than a few of my progressive acquaintances, the government is neither smart enough or wise enough to control the economy in any way without damaging it in the process. It's a lesson that must be learned again and again.