With the 2012 presidential election looming, one key topic that has been high on both Obama and Romney’s agenda is that of jobs. Both have been locked in a back-and-forth over job-creating bragging rights. The Romney camp blames today’s anemic job numbers on Obama, while the the Obama camp criticizes Romney for causing mass layoffs during his time at Bain Capital.
It’s no wonder why the issue of jobs is such a primary concern: Four years after the global financial crisis, the unemployment rate still hovers above the 8% mark, with Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke stating before Congress that improving the jobless rate will continue to be "frustratingly slow.” Tens of millions of Americans are out of work and frustrated at the lack of improvement in the economy.
One reason for the country’s stagnant job growth is that -- because of fears of economic uncertainty, of regulatory changes depending on who gets elected come November, of costs rising because of the Affordable Care Act, or myriad other reasons -- corporations have been reluctant to expand their workforces, even though they have returned to profitability.
Instead, US corporations are hoarding cash at unprecedented levels. According to the most recent Fed Flow of Funds report, at the end of March, American non-financial companies held $1.7 trillion in liquid assets. Apple (AAPL) is notorious for its $100 billion stash. Other “cash kings,” according to Moody’s, are Microsoft (MSFT), Cisco (CSCO), Google (GOOG), and Pfizer (PFE). Together with Apple, these companies hold $276 billion in cash, which represents 22% of total US non-financial corporate cash balances.
Not all companies are hoarding cash or using it to buy back stock, of course. To highlight US companies who have spent the most in domestic investments in 2011, the Washington think thank Progressive Policy Institute has published a report in which it lists the top 25 non-financial US-based companies that are still investing domestically in buildings, equipment, and software. The think tank terms these companies “investment heroes” “to make a key point: The US economy is at its best – in terms of growth and job creation – when companies and workers are partners with the same objectives.”
Topping the list in domestic capital expenditure is AT&T (T), who spent $20.1 billion in 2011. In fact, five telecom companies made the list, including Verizon (VZ) ($16.2 billion and second on the list), Comcast (CMCSA) ($5.3 billion), and Sprint (S) ($3.1 billion).
As the report notes, the fact that telecom companies and energy corporations like Exxon Mobil (XOM) ($11.7 billion and third in the list), Occidental Petroleum (OXY) ($6.2 billion), ConocoPhillips (COP) ($5.6 billion), Chevron (CVX) ($4.8 billion), and Hess (HES) ($4.4 billion) dominate the list highlights which sectors are the healthiest. Telecom companies are investing in upgrading their wireless data service capabilities to meet the growing consumer demand, while oil and gas firms have spent large sums of exploratory and productions efforts to tap the country’s oil and natural gas reserves.
Worth noting is that even overseas-based companies can be American “investment heroes.” The report points out that foreign firms were not considered because of data-related issues -- but if they were, BP (BP) ($8.8 billion) and Toyota (TM) ($2.7 billion) would have made the cut.
And as for the supreme cash king Apple? The tech giant squeaks in at No. 25, having invested $2.0 billion domestically in 2011 to develop its second corporate campus. Besides buying back more shares, the Cupertino, CA-based company looks likely to use $8 billion of its hoard of money on capital investments in the next year, up from $4.6 billion in FY 2011.
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