The Biggest Lie About U.S. Companies by Brett Arends Tuesday, August 3, 2010

ShareCopy and share Commentary: Healthy balance sheets? They owe $7.2 trillion, the most ever You may have heard recently that U.S. companies have emerged from the financial crisis in robust health, that they’ve paid down their debts, rebuilt their balance sheets and are sitting on growing piles of cash they are ready to invest in the economy. You could hear this great news pretty much anywhere — maybe from Bloomberg, which this spring hailed the “surprising strength” of corporate balance sheets. Or perhaps in the Washington Post, where Fareed Zakaria reported that top companies “have accumulated an astonishing $1.8 trillion of cash,” leaving them in the best shape, by some measures, “in almost half a century.” Or you heard it from Dallas Federal Reserve President Richard Fisher and Moodys who recently said companies were “hoarding cash” but were afraid to start investing. Or on CNBC, where experts have been debating what these corporations are going to do with all their surplus loot. Will they raise dividends? Buy back shares? Launch a new wave of mergers and acquisitions? It all sounds wonderful for investors and the U.S. economy. There’s just one problem: It’s a crock. American companies are not in robust financial shape. Federal Reserve data show that their debts have been rising, not falling. By some measures, they are now more leveraged than at any time since the Great Depression. You’d think someone might have noticed something amiss. After all, we were simultaneously being told that companies (a) had more money than they know what to do with; (b) had even more money coming in due to a surge in profits; yet (c) they have been out in the bond market borrowing as fast as they can. Does that sound a little odd to you? A look at the facts shows that companies only have “record amounts of cash” in the way that Subprime Suzy was flush with cash after that big refi back in 2005. So long as you don’t look at the liabilities, the picture looks great. Hey, why not buy a Jacuzzi? According to the Federal Reserve, nonfinancial firms borrowed another $289 billion in the first quarter, taking their total domestic debts to $7.2 trillion, the highest level ever. That’s up by $1.1 trillion since the first quarter of 2007; it’s twice the level seen in the late 1990s. The debt repayments made during the financial crisis were brief and minimal: tiny amounts, totaling about $100 billion, in the second and fourth quarters of 2009. Remember that these are the debts for the nonfinancials — the part of the economy that’s supposed to be in better shape. The banks? Everybody knows half of them are the walking dead(135 and rising, as of October). Look at our almost 14 Trillion dollar debt. Then add state, local, public and private debt, which totals about 80 Trillion! Add in the derivatives market, and its close to 1.2 Quadrillion (which is 1000 Trillions) Insane! How long would it take, to count to 1 Trillion, if evey second was 1 dollar? 32,000 years!! An economy cannot grow, with such a HUGE DEBT LOAD!! Thats like me saving 10,000 when I still owe 450,000 on my mortgage. Am I hoarding 10K? Or Do I OWE 440,000…. United states Companies are BROKE, and only the government is keeping everything afloat.