There is an enormous amount of U.S. corporate capital languishing overseas, and that’s becoming a hot topic in tech circles as the Trump administration considers a tax holiday to repatriate those funds. Common estimates of the total range from $2.1 trillion to $2.5 trillion. BMO Market Capital estimates that just eight of the biggest U.S. technology companies represent half a trillion dollars of the total.
Listed in descending order of dollar amount, those eight are:
- Apple: $230.2B of $246.1B (94 percent)
- Microsoft: $116.3B of $122.8 (95 percent)
- Cisco: $62.3B of $71.9B (88 percent)
- Oracle $51.1B of $58.2B (88 percent)
- Qualcomm: $27.9B of $29.7B (94 percent)
- HPE/HPQ: (vast majority) of approximately $10B
- IBM: $7B total (estimate)
- Net App: $4.1B of $4.6B (88 percent)
BMO’s estimates are from its presentation “Tech M&A Talk From Potential Tax Repatriations.”
The president has proposed a one-time repatriation tax of 10 percent on offshore earnings held abroad, payable over a 10-year period. The House of Representatives is still formulating a plan, but at the moment it includes subjecting existing corporate earnings to an 8.75 percent tax, while earnings held in other forms would be taxed at a 3.5 percent rate. Both would be payable over an 8-year period, according to summaries of the plans from BMO Capital.
Whatever the details, tax receipts could be somewhere in the neighborhood of $200 billion. For the sake of perspective, that’s roughly what the U.S. Government spent on education, housing, energy/environment, and transportation combined in 2015.
Repatriating the total would automatically increase gross domestic product by about 10 percent or more.
While the bump in GDP would be a net positive, it’s unclear that the companies would use the funds to reinvest in operations.
The last similar tax holiday was enacted in 2004, during the George W. Bush Administration. The tax rate was 5.25 percent, and BMO estimates that $300 billion was repatriated. Of the funds repatriated in 2004, companies devoted about 92 percent to buying back shares in their own stock or increasing dividends, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research, as cited by BMO.
The analysis firm therefore estimates that only about $25 billion of the capital repatriated in 2004 was used by companies for M&A and R&D (mergers and acquisitions, and research and development, respectively). BMO notes that much of the money also went to executive raises.
The firm doesn’t expect different results this time around should a new tax holiday be enacted. That’s based on prior behavior, and the fact that most of the companies that might benefit from repatriating assets today already have adequate access to funds for M&A activity. BMO doesn’t waste a line on the possibility that companies might spend money on R&D this time around.
On the M&A front, however, the exceptions might be Cisco and HPE, BMO believes. BMO notes that ServiceNow or Splunk “could be interesting acquisition targets.” Other companies identified as possible takeover targets include Atlassian and Workday, but BMO believes those two are less likely to sell.