Sunday, September 21st, 2014

Are U.S. companies sitting on piles of excess money?

President Barack Obama speaks at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington, Monday, Feb. 7, 2011.
President Barack Obama speaks at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington, Monday, Feb. 7, 2011.

In an address to the Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 7, 2011, President Barack Obama implored business owners to start investing and hiring. And, he said, they've got plenty of cash on hand to do it.

"So if I’ve got one message, my message is now is the time to invest in America," Obama said. "...Today, American companies have nearly $2 trillion sitting on their balance sheets."

We went to the Federal Reserve for data and found that, depending on the way you slice the numbers, that's a reasonable figure. By any measure, companies wary of the fragile economy are holding on to more liquid assets than usual. But we also talked to some economists who cautioned that it's misleading to imply that all of that $2 trillion could be readily invested by companies. Instead, the lion's share is needed to meet regular business expenses such as payroll.

And so we knocked Obama's statement down a notch to Mostly True.