By Dan Mitchell, contributor
There is a big difference, says Oracle President Safra Catz, between the $800 billion federal stimulus package and the “repatriation” of $1 trillion in foreign corporate holdings that she advocates. Unlike the stimulus, “my money has already been printed,” she said Friday, drawing chortles from the audience at a conference at Stanford University.
Not that all of the money is hers, or Oracle’s (ORCL), of course. As Fortune first reported last month, Oracle, with Catz in the lead, has joined with several other tech, pharmaceutical and energy multinationals to mount a lobbying campaign for a tax holiday that would allow them to transfer $1 trillion they have parked overseas at a much lower rate than they would normally have to pay. Other companies in the group include Cisco (CSCO), Apple (AAPL), Duke Energy (DUK) and Pfizer (PFE).
“It’s an absolute no-brainer, said Catz, who is normally publicity shy but has taken a relatively public stance on the issue. She shared the stage with DirectTV Chairman and CEO Michael White at an economic summit put on by the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research. If the money flows back to the United States, she said, “it will create jobs.” If it stays put, it will end up “funding everybody else’s economies and banks.”
White agreed. While DirectTV has far less overseas income than companies like Oracle do, “it’s just nuts” to argue that the holdings should be taxed at the normal rate of 35 percent, he said. The proposal calls for a one-year “holiday” that would tax the income at just 5 percent.
As Fortune noted last month, much of the money from the last major repatriation in 2004 was doled out to shareholders, and not, as planned, directed mainly at research and development or new hiring.
Of course, putting money into the hands of shareholders can be stimulative, too, but the repatriation shouldn’t be thought of as $1 trillion spewing into the economy as if from a firehose.
According to a 2009 study by the Congressional Research Service, of the top 12 repatriating companies in 2004, 10 cut jobs between that time and the beginning of the recession in 2008. Hewlett-Packard (HPQ), for example, repatriated $14.5 billion, only to then lay off 14,500 workers.
Catz said that many of those firings were due to mergers. “It also rained for a full month” after the money came back, she said. But “repatriation didn’t make it rain, either.