Here comes the cash.
U.S. companies stand to bring back $250 billion in foreign profits should Republicans manage to pass tax legislation, according to an analysis from Goldman Sachs (GS) , and tech companies would lead the way.
The New York-based investment bank in a research note recently laid out the math on a repatriation tax break likely to be included in a tax bill put forth by the GOP. Analysts estimate S&P 500 companies would bring back about a quarter of their total untaxed overseas cash by the end of 2018, basing their analysis on a Bush-era repatriation holiday, when U.S. firms repatriated 25% of their total estimated overseas earnings, and current corporate investment trends.
The note was distributed before the White House rolled out its nine-page tax framework. The framework mentions repatriation but provides no specifics on the mechanics of the measure or rates to be imposed.
S&P 500 companies have about $2.5 trillion in permanently reinvested overseas earnings currently, including about $920 billion of untaxed cash overseas. Goldman estimates a repatriation tax reduction like that proposed by House Republicans -- an 8.75% tax on cash and 3.5% tax on earnings -- would result in $250 billion gradually coming back to the United States next year, while $540 billion would remain at foreign subsidiaries.
While firms that benefited from the 2004 holiday enacted under President George W. Bush largely spent their money on stock buybacks, Goldman analysts Arjun Menon, David Kostin, Ben Snider, Ryan Hammond and Cole Hunter argue that this time would be different. Equity prices are high, and recent cash spending patterns of companies with money stashed abroad suggest they would be less likely to favor buybacks over other potential uses.
"We expect firms would allocate repatriated cash evenly between returning cash to shareholders (buybacks and dividends) and investing for growth (capex, R&D, and cash M&A)," the analysts wrote.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the biggest beneficiaries of a repatriation tax would be tech companies -- 11 of the 20 S&P stocks with the highest overseas cash as a percent of market cap are in the IT sector. In fact, tech accounts for 70% of total S&P 500 taxable cash stashed abroad, including nearly a quarter from Apple Inc. (AAPL) alone.
Beyond Apple, Goldman also identifies Cisco Systems Inc. (CSCO) , NetApp Inc. (NTAP) , QUALCOMM Inc. (QCOM) , Oracle Corp. (ORCL) , Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) , Western Digital (WDC) , Citrix Systems Inc. (CTXS) , Juniper Networks (JNPR) and VeriSign Inc. (VRSN) as tech companies that stand to benefit most from a reduced repatriation tax.
The note also mentions TE Connectivity (TEL) , though the company is unlikely to be a beneficiary of a repatriation holiday. TE Connectivity is a Swiss company, not a U.S. company, so the amounts reported as permanently reinvested in their financial statements do not reflect amounts that would ever be repatriated to the United States. "In fact, most of the amounts reported as permanently reinvested do not sit under the U.S.," a company spokeswoman said in an email to TheStreet. "Accordingly, any change to U.S. tax policy with respect to cash repatriation to their U.S. entities is expected to have minimal impact on TE."
Non-tech companies that would reap the most benefits are Amgen Inc. (AMGN) , Ralph Lauren Corp. (RL) , Waters Corp. (WAT) , Foot Locker Inc. (FL) , General Electric (GE) , Abbott Laboratories (ABT) , Priceline Group (PCLN) , Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) and Merck & Co. Inc. (MRK) .
Tech and healthcare combined account for 85% of total S&P 500 untaxed cash overseas. Energy and financials comprise only 2%, and real estate and telecom have almost no taxable cash abroad.
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