By Alan Murray and David Meyer
March 28, 2019

Good morning.

One of the big arguments in favor of the 2017 tax bill was that it would let companies repatriate the estimated $2.7 trillion in cash that they were holding overseas, by cutting the tax rate to only 15.5% from the usual 35%.

So did it work? Well, kind of. The latest Commerce Department data show companies brought back $665 billion of overseas profits last year. That’s only a quarter of the estimated total—and a far cry from the $4 trillion Trump promised. But it’s real money, all the same.

The bigger unanswered question is what they did with that money. Did it fuel corporate investment, or buy back stock? That’s a harder question to answer. Data from Citigroup show companies in the S&P 500 repurchased more than $800 billion in shares last year—and for the first time, that total exceeded their roughly $700 billion in capital expenditures. It seems likely that repatriated funds fueled both numbers, but the former more than the latter.

Political economists will debate the tax bill’s effects for years to come. But it’s hard to argue with the solid 3% economic growth in 2018. And as yet, there is no sign that the resulting increase in federal debt is “crowding out” private investment or driving up interest rates: the 10-year Treasury note yield dipped below 2.4% yesterday.

More news below, including the stunning revelation that Nissan paid $600,000 to put Carlos Ghosn’s four (well qualified) children through Stanford as part of his executive compensation package. That’s a new one to me: Do companies do that?

Alan Murray


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