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Why Do U.S. Firms Hold So Much More Cash Than They Used To?

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  • Bates, Thomas W.

    (U of Arizona)

  • Kahle, Kathleen M.
  • Stulz, Rene M.

    (Ohio State U)

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, firms at the end of the sample period can pay back all of 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, but is more pronounced for firms that do not pay dividends. The average cash ratio increases over the sample period because firms change: their cash flow becomes riskier, they hold fewer inventories and accounts receivable, and are increasingly R&D intensive. The precautionary motive for cash holdings appears to explain the increase in the average cash ratio.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by Ohio State University, Charles A. Dice Center for Research in Financial Economics in its series Working Paper Series with number 2006-17.

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Date of creation: Mar 2007
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Handle: RePEc:ecl:ohidic:2006-17

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  1. Fama, Eugene F. & French, Kenneth R., 2001. "Disappearing dividends: changing firm characteristics or lower propensity to pay?," Journal of Financial Economics, Elsevier, vol. 60(1), pages 3-43, April.
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