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One Step Forward, One Step Back

When you look at the United States economy, what do you see? If you’re like me, you see an economy that is growing in fits and starts. You see a few quarters of mild economic growth followed by a slight downturn for a quarter and then the slow expansion begins again.

Now, corporate cash deployment is mirroring that pattern, according to the latest AFP Corporate Cash Indicators survey.

A quarterly survey of treasury and finance professionals around the nation, the CCI asks three questions: How much did your organization’s cash holdings change last quarter? How much did your organization’s cash holdings change in the past year? And, how much do you expect your organization’s cash holdings to change this quarter?

The results of the April 2016 AFP CCI indicate that treasury and finance professionals drew down their cash reserves in the first fiscal quarter of 2016. This quarter, the CCI showed, they plan to go back to their conservative ways and hold on to their money.

In the first three months of 2016, the quarter-over-quarter index decreased by 17 points to -1, suggesting greater willingness to spend than in the prior quarter; however, the forward-looking CCI measure, which tracks expected changes in cash holdings during the current quarter, came in at +7, an increase of 8 points from January’s CCI report. Treasury and finance professionals, then, are poised to increase their cash reserves in the second quarter of 2016.

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What’s the explanation behind the start-stop pattern? Strong job numbers, declining unemployment and a far less severe winter compared to years past likely instilled some confidence among business leaders in the U.S. in the early months of 2016; however, the recent terrorist attacks in Europe, a struggling and volatile global economy and a very uncertain domestic political environment in a general election year are likely contributing to the prevailing uncertainty and more cash-hoarding this quarter.

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Companies-Increasing-Yr-to-Yr-Cash-Short-Term-Investments-JAN-APR-JUL-OCT_chartbuilder (5)

Interestingly, treasury and finance professionals’ cash-deployment behavior in this year’s first quarter marks the second consecutive quarter that their actions matched their expectations entering the quarter. That’s only the second time in several quarters that their actions matched their predictions. We can draw two possible conclusions from this: Treasury and finance professionals are doing a better job forecasting their cash needs, or they have reined in their irrational exuberance. Whether it’s one or the other—or a combination of both—it is a good sign when companies can reduce their number of unwelcome surprises.

The April 2016 CCI shows that corporates are prepared to deploy cash holdings, but only under the most strategic circumstances. Unless there is a clear opportunity, organizations continue to be content to hold on to their cash in case of emergency.

James A. Kaitz

President and CEO of Association for Financial Professionals @JKaitzAFP

Jim Kaitz is president and CEO of AFP, an association that represents over 16,000 treasury and financial professionals located around the world. He was formerly executive vice president and chief operating officer of Financial Executives Institute, a professional association of over 14,000 senior financial executives representing 8,000 companies in the United States.

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