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Loyal readers of the Calcbench blog might remember that back in November, we took an early peek at cash being reported by the S&P 500 for third-quarter 2017. The data was incomplete, but the numbers looked good — so good, we said, that third-quarter 2017 might be a banner period for cash.

We like to follow up on things around here, so we looked again at cash numbers this week. Sure enough, Corporate America has plenty of it.

Total cash reported by the S&P 500 was $1.65 trillion in third-quarter 2017, or $3.31 billion per firm. Those are the highest levels reported in the last 15 quarters (that is, since the start of 2014). We charted the quarter-by-quarter totals below. While the fluctuations are a bit jagged, the trend line (red) is moving in one unmistakable direction.

We can also see average cash per firm (below) moving briskly upward. Again, the trend line tells all.

So that’s the S&P 500. But now that we have filings for smaller companies, too, we wondered: are they seeing the same big increases in cash? Again, the Calcbench Data Query Tool came to the rescue.

Total cash for all filers did increase 5.59 percent over the last 15 quarters, from $2.25 trillion to $2.38 trillion. And third-quarter 2017 was the best period we had in that time — but barely so; fourth-quarter 2014 had $2.36 trillion in cash reported. Hence the trend line (in red) tilts upward at an almost imperceptible slope. Without that spike at the end of 2014, the trend line would be much more steep.

And what about average cash for the whole universe of public companies? Average cash per filer rose 30.6 percent, from $318.1 million at the start of 2014 to $415.5 million in third-quarter 2017 — but we also had a 19 percent drop in the number of filers overall. So that increase in average cash might be driven more by the decline in public filers, more than by gushers of cash coming into company coffers.

Still, let’s focus on the S&P 500 again. Many of those companies — Starbucks, Apple, AT&T, Boeing, Comcast, JetBlue, JP Morgan, Southwest, Verizon, Walmart and more — have announced pay raises and bonuses lately, crediting the recent tax reform law.

Perhaps that’s so. Then again, these companies have been increasing cash for years, and increasing cash a lot in 2017. Would they have rolled out those bonuses and pay raises anyway, given the tight labor market and steady complaints about income inequality?

We’ll never know. But the data gives you food for thought.


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